Atmel: The Giant Force Behind Touch Screens

Atmel touchscreenWe were “At mel” (Atmel) you know… where they make touch screen technology.

We arrived at the nicely designed palm tree-surrounded facilities of Atmel where the touchscreen technology that you are probably scrolling on your mobile device to read this article was made.

Our third speaker was John Kiachian, the Vice President of Atmel Corporation. He graced us with his knowledge about getting products to market and being profitable and successful in a constantly evolving industry.

Atmel makes microcontroller memory and wireless technology, but they are mainly known for making touchscreen technology. They produce capacitive touch screens which consist of a layer that stores an electrical charge placed on top of a glass display. When the layer is touched, charge is transferred to your finger which reduces the charge on the capacitive layer. A chip measures the change in the electrical composition of the sensory layer and calculates the location of your fingers. This information is then sent to the touch screen driver software.

Things to be taken into consideration with touch screens are signal-to-noise ratio, accuracy and linearity, response time and power consumption. The operating system may also affect touch screen response time. Atmel seeks to optimize and customize all of these variables for the specific needs of their clients.

These things are important because a simple and reliable user interface (touchscreen performance) is critical. If people are having problems with the interface, a company using Atmel’s products will sell fewer devices. Atmel produces the touch controller chip and designed the system that makes this technology possible.

We also discussed the challenges of intellectual property and the importance of constantly filing and monitoring patents. “Be on the lookout for patent trolls,” Mr. Kiachian advised.

This is very important with hardware technology, unlike software technology, where several beast programmers can recreate virtually anything.

The market trends in technology (touch screen in this case) focus on user experience. At the moment, the actual technology behind touchscreens is not changing dramatically, but the way the technology interacts with the user is the differentiating factor among touch screen devices. One of the reasons Atmel is so successful is that it controls a large portion of a thin market because they make the touchscreens for Apple devices, which have a huge market share.

Mr. Kiachian did say that his technology is becoming thinner and lighter, and touchscreens will be seen more often in vehicles in the future (Atmel does a lot of work in the automotive industry). The semiconductor industry is an important one in the Valley because it is the basis for building and innovating almost every single tech products.

By the way, most of America’s millionaires and billionaires live in San Francisco.


Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley


View of Silicon Valley from Atmel