Sensor may bring touchscreen to feature phones

February 27, 2012

dylan.mcgrath-February 27, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO—Cypress Semiconductor Corp. Monday (Feb. 27) unveiled what the company calls the first single-layer touchscreen sensor to support multi-touch capability, offering a dramatic reduction in cost that the company believes will enable many feature phones to incorporate touchscreens, thus significantly increasing the size of the potential market.

"We think we are going to see a massive migration of feature phones into touch," said John Carey, director of TrueTouch marketing at Cypress.

Touchscreens with multi-touch capability are basically standard equipment in current smartphones, but few feature phones have offered it. According to Carey, about two-thirds of the roughly 1.5 billion handsets shipping in 2011 were feature phones. "These guys really want to put touch in their phones, but they can't afford to do it," Carey said. "And the sensor is the biggest thing driving the cost."

Carey said Cypress's new sensor, SLIM (an acronym for single-layer independent multi-touch) is a single-substrate, single-layer single layer indium tin oxide (ITO) touchscreen, requiring no additional insulation layers or bridges. SLIM reduces cost versus other multi-touch sensors by roughly 40 percent and also enables thinner phones, he said. SLIM can be deposited directly on a handset's cover class, reducing thickness even further, he added.

"High-end phones can get thinner," Carey said. "Industrial designers can do really cool things with their phones."

SLIM can also eliminate the need for a side-bezel, normally about 2 millimeters on each side of the end product, enabling borderless display modules that allow OEMs to use larger displays without changing the form-factor of the phone, said Carey.

According to Carey, competing multi-touch sensors consist of two layers or what he called "1.5 layers," the ITO and an insulator. He said Cypress has developed proprietary algorithms that interface with a single-layer sensor with no bridges.

"SLIM kind of creates a new classs of product on the high end, it also unlocks an enormous [market opportunity] with the feature phones," Carey said. "It will play in both arenas."

Carey said Cypress is ready to begin working on designs with SLIM now, but that the sensor is expected to be in general availability in the second quarter.   

Also Monday, Cypress rolled out its TMA140 TrueTouch controllers, offering multi-finger for screens of up to five inches. The new controllers, designed to work with SLIM sensors, support Cypress’s patent-pending Charger Armor feature, which uses adaptive frequency hopping and other techniques to prevent false touches due to excessive noise from a charger, the company said.

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