We live in a touchscreen world, as touchscreens increasingly dominate consumer technology products like smartphones and tablets. But touchscreens are not the only option for users to interface with electronic devices and other machinery. In fact, one of the prime alternatives – membrane switches – offer numerous advantages over touchscreens in specific applications.

What are membrane switches and touchscreens?

Both touchscreens and membrane switches are input devices that enable human users to interact with machines through the power of touch, but they operate in very different ways. Membrane switches work much like mechanical switches, but instead of mechanical parts with a separate switch for each key, the electric circuit is printed on a single, continuous, thin membrane. When the user pushes down, the circuit completes. For more information, see our article “How do membrane switches work?

The operation of touchscreens depends on the technology used – capacitive or resistive. Capacitive touchscreens measures changes in capacitance that occur when a finger touches the screen. Resistive touchscreens identify the pressure caused by finger.

When do membrane switches outperform touchscreens?

Touchscreens dominate so many consumer electronics today for a reason: they offer a great user experience and work well at enabling users to interact with the underlying systems or apps. That said, the input device needs to fit the use-case, and membrane switches outshine touchscreens in several settings.

Principally, membrane switches offer a ruggedness that touchscreens can’t match, including resistance to breakage, extreme temperatures, humidity, electromagnetic fields, and more. As a result, membrane switches can withstand harsher environments, which makes them suitable for applications such as medical devices, aerospace, and manufacturing. In fact, not only are membrane switches more robust in general, they can optionally incorporate self-healing technology – like Hoffmann + Krippner’s GT Technology – that enables keys to undo certain kinds of damage. Try to find a smartphone that can self-heal a cracked screen.

Membrane switches can also be more user-friendly, depending on how they’re used. If they’re in an environment in which users routinely wear gloves, membrane switches can still function perfectly and provide excellent tactile feedback, which touchscreens couldn’t. They can also be thinner and more cost-effective (less complex to build), which can ease the ability of machine engineers and industrial designers to incorporate them into their equipment designs.

For more information about how membrane switches work and what design and customization options are available, visit our main Membrane Switches page.

Contact us with questions or for more information.

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