Touch screens are a major part of our everyday lives, and have become so common and normalised that we do not even think about it, except to put on touch screen fingertips to ensure that our use is hygienic.
It is somewhat amazing that even though the technology is so old that it predates not only the mobile phone but the computer as we know it, it took until the late 1990s for the technology to start being normalised, delayed in part by the notable failure of the Apple Newton.
The first touch screen was not a device for using a computer, as computers at this point used large stacks of punchcards to run programs rather than any form of touch screen interface.
Instead, Philco Company’s initial patent for a stylus was designed as a broadcasting aid, amplifying the original signal wherever it was placed and creating a mark visible on a black and white broadcast.
Specifically, it was designed to be used during live sports telecasts, to draw arrows and circles onto the action as it was broadcast, and to provide a visual aid for viewers to see why a particular action was done on the field.
These sorts of visual aids have increased in sophistication since but this original design shaped how sports broadcasts would look from then onwards.
It would take nearly two decades for this concept to leave the confines of the light produced from the screen itself, with the first touch screen relying on a matrix of lights that a stylus could break, creating a coordinate that the computer could show on the screen.
Interestingly, whilst most early touch screens relied on a stylus as the main way to use a touch screen, Eric Johnson published an article in 1965 about the use of touch screens, expanding on it with diagrams and pictures of a prototype device in 1967.
It would take until 1982 for the earliest experiments into multi-touch technology, however, which when combined with capacitive touch screens is the system all smartphones use today.