For all their fashionable desirability, the sleek new tablets and countless other touchscreen devices unveiled at CES last week could still be easier on the eye. Cutting down the blocky black bezels that surround their strokable panels is one obvious strategy, but it’s one that designers have not been totally free to pursue. That’s about to change, though, says materials firm 3M, which predicts that next year’s tablets will have screens that run much closer to their edges.
A touchscreen has a transparent conducting mesh beneath its surface that detects changes in capacitance when your finger nears. At the screen’s edges that mesh links to circuits that collect those signals for processing, and the space those circuits need is one of the limits on bezel size. 3M now says it has found a way to shrink them, by using silver rather than Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) to trace out both the honeycomb mesh behind the screen, and the electrodes at the panel’s edge.
Using silver instead of ITO allows the width taken up by a given set of traces at the edge of a touch panel to be cut by an order of magnitude, says Craig Sykora, a 3M product development manager for the tech. “It gives the ability to push the edge of the display all the way out,” he says, “which could give a much better consumer experience.”
Using silver, which has higher conductivity than ITO, also makes the panel respond to touches fast. A demonstration screen showed that the new technique yielded a response time of just 6 milliseconds, compared to a typical 60 ms response using ITO. That could help tighten the gaming experience on the more powerful tablets currently in development.