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The right touch is central to today’s retail customer journey

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Touchscreens are at the heart of a clicks-to-bricks customer journey. Customers love going shopping but retailers need to entice them through the door, and make them feel comfortable completing the transaction in store. Their new digital tools: interactive windows, “endless aisle” displays, kiosks, touch tables – all rely on contact through a touchscreen — these days, most commonly through projected capacitive (p-cap) technology.

New touch controllers are raising the bar for performance and enabling new features in interactive video walls and touch tables. They offer a narrower inactive border in line with the trend for displays to be thinner with a maximum display area. Soft keys can be placed around the edge of the screen. Speed of touch response is improved dramatically. New functionality such as contactless payment, loyalty card recognition and even wireless phone charging can be added.

Improved noise immunity

The key to these improvements is the drive signal applied to the sensors’ Transmit (Tx) array of electrodes by the touch controller. The level of this signal is a classic trade-off, a low-voltage signal can be overwhelmed by electromagnetic interference from the environment, a high drive voltage can create interference in the sensor itself, which can potentially degrade performance. Most projected capacitive touchscreen manufacturers are forced to use a Tx signal with a DC current of between 20-30V, due to limitations in available off-the-shelf touch control components and ASICs.

Some sensors, however can operate at an industry-leading Tx drive voltage of up to 40V, enabling full multi-touch detection in extremely challenging self-service and public use applications.

Enhanced visual presentation

The higher drive voltages reduce the influence of noise on the data captured. A significant source of this noise is the proximity of the display behind the overlaying touch sensor. With all larger projected capacitive touchscreens, it is necessary to have a gap (air or resin filled) between the front of the display and the rear of the touch sensor.

A further enhancement is the opportunity to include tactile feedback through the ‘force sensing’ capability. This technology responds to the increased surface area of a fingertip when pressed more firmly onto the screen and graduates its output accordingly. Software developers can then use the variable Z-axis coordinates from the controller to activate different functions depending on the applied pressure, such as issuing an audible message alerting the user to the option selected when the screen is touched lightly, and then confirming the choice when pressed harder.

Contactless payments and phone charging

The improved noise immunity of new controllers on the market allows useful additional functions like contactless payment, wireless phone charging and customer tracking close to the active area of the touchscreen, enabling a tightly integrated layout. The technologies used to implement these functions, such as RFID, NFC and Qi, generate signals that can interfere with the operation of conventional projected capacitive touchscreens, but newer controllers have better signal-to-noise ratios and sophisticated algorithms that change dynamically to reject electromagnetic interference in the operating environment.

System integration and communications

A key factor in the success of a user interface design is how easy it is to integrate the controller into the rest of the system. USB is an extremely popular interface, but there are some applications that require RS232, I2C or SPI interfaces, and the new touch controller also supports these communication protocols.

For applications where space is at a premium, you should consider controllers that come as a ‘chip set’ You can  embed the touch controller onto an existing motherboard within their system, saving space, cost and integration time.

Finally, you should also consider devices that are  HID (Human Interface Device) compliant and offer ‘plug-and-play’ operation with later Windows operating systems, also supporting Linux and Android builds capable of multi-touch input.

Conclusion: A “phygital” experience

Retailers that get the customer experience and journey right are showing that it is entirely possible to run a thriving physical store alongside a successful online presence, and in doing so out-compete online-only resellers.

Customers enjoy meeting and interacting with knowledgeable and helpful sales staff, and the opportunity to see and handle the physical product – experiences that are simply unavailable online. By harnessing the best available touch technologies, however, it is much easier to bring the best of web into the store, and truly give customers the best of both physical and digital worlds.


Republished with permission from Digital Signage Today.

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