Who Invented Touchscreen Phones? (Invention Timeline Explained)

In today’s tech-driven world, most people are glued to their mobile phones and other handheld electronic devices for most of the day. Who can blame them when cell phones are not only for messaging and calling, as they operate almost like a computer? But have you ever wondered how the touchscreen panel on your phone came about? Its evolution started in the 1940s, and research and development on the touchscreen continue today. Learn how touchscreens developed and the people and companies that worked hard so users can enjoy their benefits today.  

Who invented touchscreen phones?

Tech company IBM collaborated with BellSouth to develop the Simon Personal Communication, the first touchscreen phone. It had paging capabilities, email and calendar apps, a calculator, an address book, an appointment calendar, and a sketchpad that used a pen. In addition, the screen has a resistive touchscreen that needs the use of a stylus.

Touchscreen phones’ key contributors (and evolution)

  • Philco Company
    Touchscreen predecessor

    In 1946, Philco Company’s William E. Denk filed a patent for a stylus-based system with a modern touchscreen. They designed the stylus for sports telecasting, which works when placed against an intermediate cathode ray tube (CRT) display.

  • AT&T
    First version of touchscreen

    Leon D. Harmon of AT&T invented the ”electrographic transmitter,” the first version of a touchscreen operating independently of the light produced from a screen. Instead, Harmon’s touchscreen used a matrix of parallel lights shining perpendicularly across the touch-sensitive surface.

  • CERN engineers
    Transparent touchscreen

    CERN engineers Bent Stumpe and Frank Beck developed a transparent touchscreen in the 1970s. CERN initially manufactured the screens and later produced them with a third party. The touchscreen CERN engineers developed started its application to various devices in 1973.

  • University of Toronto
    Multi-touch screens

    Several companies and universities developed their versions of both capacitive and resistive touchscreen technologies for different applications, including automotive, air transportation, broadcasting, gaming, and computing. In 1982, the University of Toronto started multi-touch technology using frosted glass over a camera. In 1985, they created the multi-touch tablet.

  • LG Electronics
    First capacitive touchscreen phone

    In May 2007, in collaboration with Prada, an Italian luxury designer, LG Electronics released the LG Prada (LG KE850). It was the first mobile phone with a capacitive touchscreen panel. LG released LG Prada in several cities in Europe and, later, Asia. Several weeks later, Apple released its first iPhone, which gained popularity in the U.S.

When was the touchscreen phone invented?

The first touchscreen phone was invented in 1993, a product of the partnership between IBM and BellSouth. But the invention of resistive technology used in the first touchscreen phone occurred in 1975. On the other hand, capacitive technology, the dominant technology used on today’s smartphones and tablets, was invented in 1983.

A brief history of touchscreen phones

Before mobile phones started using touchscreen panels, many inventors, researchers, and engineers from various companies, universities, and tech companies worked hard or accidentally discovered touchscreens. Then, from the mid-1940s to the 2000s, people and companies looked for ways to innovate and improve the capabilities of touchscreen panels.

When it comes to touchscreens on phones, there are likewise many firsts. For example, historians agree that the first touchscreen phone was the Simon Personal Communication that IBM released in 1993, using the resistive touchscreen. Resistive touchscreen technology was invented in 1975, while the capacitive screen, which is on more than 90 percent of mobile phones today, was invented in 1983.

The transparent touch panel was another work of Samuel Hurst. It came out in 1974. In 1977, Hurst developed the five-wire resistive panel, and his company eventually merged with Siemens a few years later, and they produced the first TV with a touch screen in 1982.

The HP-150 or the HP Touchscreen from the HP Company came out in November 1983. The HP-150 is one of the earliest commercialized touchscreen computers in the world. The computer, which had a touchscreen, was the origin of modern personal computers with touchscreen technology.

Alcatel One Touch COM, released in 1988, was the first mobile phone with resistive touch input. It became the prototype of today’s smartphones. The phone had modest features, a monochrome display, three games, and supported four languages. Ericsson also came out with Ericsson R380, with monochrome display, and a few features.

In 2002, HTC released Qtek 1010 and the 02 XDA, with a touchscreen in its current form. These mobile phones had a full-color display, supported 4096 colors, and had good resolution.

Five years later, the touchscreen technology became more sophisticated, with capacitive touchscreen technology taking over, as the screen did not require a stylus. The first smartphone to come out with a capacitive touchscreen was LG Prada, which hit the European market in May 2007. Weeks later, iPhone conquered the U.S. market. 

Touchscreen phones timeline

  1. 1960s to 1970s
    Invention of the touchscreen

    Eric A. Johnson of England’s Royal Radar Establishment invented the first finger driven touchscreen in 1965. His invention was a capacitive touchscreen. In the U.S., inventor, and scientist Dr. G. Samuel Hurst invented the resistive touchscreen. Dr. Hurst and his colleagues worked to perfect the design and applied it as computer controllers.

  2. 1980s
    New technologies and first consumer products

    Tech companies realized a new way of controlling computers. Hewlett-Packard released a new product with a touchscreen, the HP Touchscreen (HP-150), but it had several flaws. Other touch technologies emerged, such as cameras tracking user movement. In 1983, Bell Labs’ Bob Boie developed the first multi-touch overlay.

  3. 1990s
    Popular touchscreens

    Computers are getting smaller, and tech companies recognized the potential of handheld devices. Apple introduced the MessagePad (Newton) PDA in 1993. In the same year, IBM released Simon Personal Communicator, the first touchscreen cell phone. Finally, Palm Computing introduced the Pilot in 1996. This PDA became the most successful among the touchscreen devices during that time.

  4. 2000s
    Pre-smartphone touchscreens

    FingerWorks developed the first multi-touch products that worked using hand gestures. The products included computer accessories. Most were for the use of people with disabilities. In 2005, FingerWorks ceased operations but continued to file and process patents until Apple bought the company in 2007.

  5. 2007

    Apple released the original iPhone in 2007, using the touchscreen technology of FingerWorks. Apple made the touchscreen phone famous initially in the U.S. market. But the first capacitive touchscreen phone was the LG KE850 or LG Prada, which went on sale in Europe in 2007, weeks ahead of the iPhone. However, LG Prada was not available in the U.S.

Where were touchscreen phones invented?

IBM developed the first touchscreen phone. IBM is an American multinational tech company based in New York, with presence in 171 countries. It is one of the oldest tech companies in the United States, established in 1911. 

Why people love touchscreen phones

  • Speed

    You can operate the touchscreen phone faster and better. With one touch, you can choose and launch an app quickly. Simple finger gestures can change the size of the button, the font, or message display, helping those with some problems with visibility. A swipe can reveal more icons or menu options.

  • Ease of use

    Users of touchscreen phones have a bigger screen to use, as the virtual keyboard is part of the screen. As a result, browsing the web is more engaging and interactive, using multi-touch gestures, pinch, and swipes to navigate the menu. In addition, it is easier to send messages because users do not have to multi-tap.

  • Displays what you need

    The touchscreen on a smartphone can display whatever you want – a keyboard, a dialer, a calculator, a camera, a browser, and the pre-installed or downloaded apps. So you can immediately access news, weather, music, videos, or games without too much effort.

  • It is durable

    A touchscreen phone does not have a physical keyboard and buttons. Therefore, there is no chance of wear and tear due to extensive usage, debris, and dirt. It is easy to add a screen protector if you need additional protection. Also, since the screen is made from glass, it is easy to clean.

  • It is interactive

    The touchscreen will display the proper icon or button you need. The screen is intuitive. Whatever button you see on the screen, you can activate it with a touch. For example, if you watch a video, you can change the orientation from portrait to landscape with a button or hold the phone sideways.

Touchscreen phones by the numbers

  • 0.45 – 0.55The latest touchscreen phones have glass covers that are between 0.45mm and 0.55 mm thick. Previously, the standard was 1.0 mm. Thus, today’s smartphone glass may be flexible but breakable. 
  • 3There are three types of touchscreen technologies that smartphones today use: capacitive, resistive, and surface wave.
  • 7Corning claims that for the past ten years it had produced cover glass for seven billion smartphones, laptops, and tablets used by 45 major brands worldwide. 
  • 18LG KE850 or LG Prada, acknowledged as the first phone with capacitive touchscreen, sold one million units in 18 months. It was announced on Dec. 15, 2006 and went on sale in May 2007 in the Italy, the UK, Germany, France, and Asia. LG Prada was not released in the U.S.
  • 301.65In 2022, the projected number of smartphone users in the United States is 301.65 million. The estimate is that it will rise to 311.53 million by 2025. 
  • 2,617According to a research conducted by Dscout, an average person in the U.S. touches their smartphone 2,617 times per day.

Five facts about touchscreen phones

  • Two-thumb tapping is not common

    While two-thumb tapping is possible on a touchscreen phone, only about one to three percent of users perform this. Two-thumb tapping involves holding the touchscreen phone in both hands and using the left and right thumbs to do the touch command, such as typing a message. 

  • Improves accuracy 

    With a touchscreen, you can increase the accuracy of input. For example, input accuracy rises by 20 percent when using a touchscreen, based on a study. It means that an average user makes 20 percent fewer errors than people using a traditional device.

  • Improves input speed

    Aside from improved accuracy, a touchscreen also increases input speed by 20 percent. In the same study on the accuracy, researchers found that users can do touch commands faster when using a touchscreen device.

  • Works with bare fingers

    Do you ever wonder why you can use your bare fingers on your touchscreen phone? Most smartphones today have capacitive screens, which need a conductive object to recognize touch commands. Your body is a good conductor of electricity. Thus, your bare fingers can control a capacitive touchscreen easily.

  • Capacitive screens are popular

    You might have seen touchscreen phones with a stylus. These phones have resistive screens. However, more than 90 percent of all touchscreen phones today are capacitive. They do not need a stylus. Your bare finger is enough. Moreover, capacitive screens are more popular because they have faster response times. They support higher resolutions, too.

FAQs about touchscreen phones

  • What is a touchscreen?

     A touchscreen is an onscreen input device. A touchscreen kit consists of a touch panel or touch sensor, a controller board, and a software driver. The clear glass panel covers the front of a smartphone and has a surface that responds to touch.

  • How does a touchscreen on the phone work?

     When you touch the glass panel on your touchscreen phone, its touch sensor starts a signal, which it sends to the phone’s hardware. The latter then sends the signal to the device’s software, which the unit interprets and reacts as needed. 

  • How long do touchscreens last?

     Capacitive touchscreens (on older phones) last for a long time. Most of them last for more than five years. However, with proper care, a touchscreen can last over ten years. Covering the glass panel with a screen protector safeguards the screen from dirt, grime, sweat, and wear and tear.

  • How do you maintain the sensitivity of touchscreen phones?

     You can improve the sensitivity of your phone’s touchscreen by cleaning the glass cover. Dirt and grease from your hands accumulate on the surface. Clean it with a cotton ball dipped in a cleaning solution, or wipe it with a soft cloth is ideal.

  • What do you do if the touchscreen on the phone is unresponsive?

     One of the first things to do is to reboot your phone. Then, shut it down for a few seconds. If you have a screen protector, clean it or replace it with a thinner protector. Wash and dry your hands before cleaning your phone or updating its software.  

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