Touchscreen Problems (Zombie Finger)

iPad zombie finger - Touchscreen ProblemsOver the last couple of weeks I have flown from the USA to Britain, then to Italy, and back finally to the USA. I flew on some lovely new Airbus aircraft, but had a constantly recurring problem with the on-board entertainment systems.

The problem is that in the seat above me there is a fantastic touchscreen entertainments system, but my fingers do not work. My son who was sitting next to me has good fingers, he touches the volume section and can turn the sound up or down, but I cannot because the slider does not seem to recognize my body.

So it must be my screen I think, my son leans over and it works perfectly well for him. We swap places, now mine works for him but I still cannot change the volume, this time on a different machine.

It must be me I conclude, but why? Long ago I gave up using anything touchy for this reason. I try licking my hands, warming them up, cleaning the screen but I do not make any progress. So I started looking around the web for some answers to find that I am not the only one, hurrah. There is even a recognized name for the problem in some fields, Zombie Finger!

Touch screens operate in many different ways. At Walker Mobile you can download a free PDF that explains how the different technologies work, but the vast majority of application that we know use one of two approaches. They can be described as Resistive Touch and Projective Capacitance.

Resistive touch is old school analogue. Two surfaces are together, typically one of glass with a thin film over it. You push down on the film and it makes a circuit using a grid of electrical conductors. The system is cheap but being mechanical liable to damage and wear, and it is thick.

Projective Capacitance has no moving parts however, and some of its advantages mean that it is rapidly taking over the market. It is a system that works on capacitance, which is the thing that gives you a shock when you walk over a synthetic carpet and then touch the brass door handle in the hotel that you are staying in.

iPhone touch screen technology

How iPhone touch screens work.

Again there are two layers, both charged but to a different extent. When you touch the screen some of the charge is released into your finger, and this tiny change can be measured. And here lies a variable, because the nail will not carry a charge, gloves stop the action and so I wonder if even the state of the skin at the end of the fingers might effect usability. Do I type too much? No charge transfer means no volume.

For a fuller explanation of these 2 competing systems see this article, it is short but extremely informative. I would just like to know if anyone else has issues with touch screens, and if so if they have been able to address the issue in some way. As technology advances this interface is becoming the norm, and we wouldn’t want to leave people with particular skin types behind now, would we?

29 thoughts on “Touchscreen Problems (Zombie Finger)

  1. Christopher Roberts

    You are never going to believe this Jonny, but I have Zombie Fingers!

    I am fine with some touch screens – quite a whiz in fact! However there are a few that I just can’t get a grip of. Sometimes they just don’t register my fingers, and others they register them, but in the wrong place, meaning I end pressing things I don’t want to press!

    Should our readers be worried that [to date] at least 254 of Technology Bloggers posts have come from those with Zombie Fingers? 😉

  2. Yep, I have the same problem, and it only happens at certain times. Most noticeably these days I have to double or triple tap the hang up button on the phone app. It NEVER recognizes my finger on first try. Maybe something to do with holding hand vertical against my head causing blood to run out of my fingertips? Until now I just assumed it had more to do with my anti-christ makeup. Glad I’m not alone.

  3. I also have this problem. The only touchscreen that I seem to be able to use easily is the ipad. I usually have to call my daughter over to touch screens for me because it will respond to her quickly. I think I might just keep a stylus in my purse at all times for this reason.

  4. I have always had a problem with both touch screens and touch pads. My husband says that it might be that my touch is too inconsistent, and that the screens/pads don’t register it the way they should do. My mother-in-law has to use a stylus with her tablet for much the same reason, and I recall that my now-deceased mother also had problems with her nook-color, requiring a capacitance type stylus to get her nook to work. But my problem seems to be universal between touchpads and touchscreens of any type…they just are completely unreliable for me.

  5. I can’t use ANY samsung or motorola device reliably… which means I’m pretty much stuck with old school brick phones and limited functionality with tablets.

  6. I too have the same problems, with phones and touch screens in general Took ten minutes to deposit money in to my landlords account. The assistant had to finish the transaction off, the screen didn’t register my touch. I have very smooth finger tips, also I don’t sweat on my hands, and you can hardly see my finger prints. I’d make a good criminal, no finger prints for me!

  7. THANK you!! I have cried buckets over my problem!! I didn’t know there are others with my same problem until today as I am doing some research. (with my keyboard and mouse, I might add!) I get the dumbest advice from people! like, “you just have to learn how.” Um, excuse me! I know what icon to touch!!! I know what it’s supposed to do and where it’s supposed to take me. It takes everyone else where they wanna go!! I feel like ‘forrest’ in the comment above.
    Thank you so much for writing this article!! Hopefully the ipad company will come up with a solution!!!

  8. Can this question get passed on to the tech-no-pro people that are inventing things? I wanna know if 0-neg blood type has anything to do with being able to operate a touch screen. Jonny, do you happen to have 0-neg blood type? How about the others that commented on this blog?

  9. I have zombie fingers with Apple products, iPhones, iPads…..the Samsungs and Motorolas have worked better for me. People act like I’m crazy when I tell them, and then baffled and astounded when I demonstrate. I think it has to do with each individual’s conductivity somehow. Who knows. But it is real thing.

  10. I too have zombie fingers, there are times, like today, when I could not answer my phone because it would not swipe. I cannot do the “two finger” scroll on my laptop and have to use a stylus with my Kindle, the ipad seems to be O.K. for now. Up until a few days ago my husband thought I was crazy and not “doing it right”, can’t wait to tell him about my “Zombie fingers”.

  11. My fingers don’t work on my phone, slot machines at casinos, or at my bank kiosk. I have trouble with ALL touch screens. I don’t have callouses or thickened skin, but I do suspect my finger tips are very dry. My hands are in water a lot. I wonder if dry skin has more to do with this problem than what is realized. Perhaps I’ll try some lotion first. I have O blood Anna but I think it is positive. I hope someone can figure this out.

  12. I think they had to add a option to raise the sensitivity level of the screen to make it work better. My old Lumia 520 had this feature and it was amazing. It is not everytime that I have zombie fingers, but it happens sometimes. Unfortunately, I had to change my phone because it was starting to run slow and my new one unfortunately doesn’t have this.

  13. Same here. My husband’s iphone won’t register for me. My own Samsung is fine. At work they wanted to put my fingerprints into a canteen payment system. Nothing doing. I have dry skin and a bit of arthritis btw.

  14. Charlene Hart-Foley

    I have gone through several phone brands to try to figure this problem out. touch screens can be totally non responsive to my touch.I have 0 negative bloodand cannot use those screen protective” ‘stick on the glass’ clear plastic peel and stick sheets. charlene

    • I have had a Samsung J5 (2017) for two years. Ever since I started using the touchscreen, issues have been there. Various members of my family have used it without any problem at all. Until now I’ve been unable to find any useful advice. At least now I can see I’m not the only having problems.

  15. I too have big problems with some touch screens. Entering he USA is a big challenge because their machines can’t read my fingerprints! (This has caused problems several times now because fingerprint recognition is a prerequisite for entering the country. We have tried wet wipes, rubbing my fingers in my forehead, moisturising, all the tricks they suggest, but they make no difference). Screens in aeroplanes are also unresponsive as is the control for my new induction hob. I can operate the touch screens on my IPhone and Kindle.

  16. Yes indeed, i too have the dreaded _Zombie Fingers_. When i worked on a project for the U.S. government a fews years back, my entire team had to be electronically fingerprinted. Guess what – most – almost all – of the women over approx. 50 years old had zombie fingers. At any place that depends on a fingerprint recognition screen, I’m SOL. I first noticed my zombie digits when i was in early 50s. It takes a lot of attempts, and trying a lot of products ( soap, lotion, alcohol, nail polish remover) to convince people that these screens are no match for my fingers. BTW i have Type B blood & low blood pressure. To use most tablets it takes a good stylus.
    Is there any consensus out there that this issue is mostly women who have low blood pressure or over age 40?? YIKES.

    • I’m over 60 and have high blood pressure but I do have problems with static electricity. I used to have a problem with Cotco. I would be shocked many times just trying to shop. This Fall/Winter seems to be dryer than normal and lots of static.

  17. I have this problem, too. In buying a new oven, I rejected any with a touch screen. My husband and the sales person were incredulous until I repeatedly showed them it wouldn’t work for me. The short answer is use a stylus. I am convinced this has to do with one’s personal electromagnetic field being incompatible with the settings of the device. I say that because as with others, some brands and some devices will work for me and others not and it’s consistent.

  18. I have the same problem with touch things. It seems to be more of a problem recently. I know the static in the air recently has been a problem. My clothes are sticking to me more than in the past and everything coming out of the dryer is stuck together. My finger tips feel very smooth. I try licking my finger but it doesn’t really help. Sometimes I can’t set the microwave or open it. What are we supposed to do? It looks like there is a fundamental flaw in the system. There should be someone out there looking into this. If there isn’t who do e tell about the problem?

  19. I have had great difficulty in answering my cell phone, but has it has gotten colder and dryer, I now cannot initiate any action on my cell phone. I am frustrated and ready to fo back to my old brick.

  20. Life is getting ridiculously hard because of all the excessive touch screens everywhere. Like many of you, I too cannot use touchscreen. They’ve shoehorned touchscreen into every thing imaginable these days, for what reason I don’t know.

    I’ve had to go way out of my way to buy things that don’t have touchscreen, which is getting more difficult by the day. I’ve started stockpiling things that don’t have touchscreen in case the only option in the future is a touch device. Coffee Makers, Toasters, even MP3 players just so have some sort of basic functionality in my life.

    It might sound crazy, but imagine waking up one morning and not being able to brew coffee because all the controls are touchscreen and you suffer from this problem. This isn’t even too far off. Banks are rolling out Touchscreen ATMs. Why? Because some UX Designer thought it was “cool”, or they wanted a customers to have an “experience” as I read in one account by a designer of one of these new ATM machines.

    I have to go into the bank to do basic things like deposit/withdraw cash. And the clerks look at you funny when you try and explain that you cannot use touchscreen. I tell you how my experience is now Mr/Mrs UX designer: It’s frustrating! You’ve made my life much more complicated, and now I have to spend more time just to do a basic function by waiting in line at the bank.

    I know some of you out there have probably been called “Old” for your avoidance of touchscreen, but let me tell you, I’ve been dealing with this problem since I was in my early 20s. I remember being 22 and being forced to switch my phone by my provider. I explained to them to no avail that I cannot use touchscreen.

    Thankfully by complaining (which is why I am posting this now in hopes that someone tech person out there reads this and considers this before shoehorning a touchscreen in to their next product), they now offer phones with buttons, but they’re labeled for the elderly. Yeah, they think you’re old even if you have this problem in your youth. How nice of them. Even the term “Zombie Fingers” is an insult to those of us that cannot use touchscreen. It makes it sound like you should be avoided.

    In closing, the world is getting harder to live in if you cannot use touchscreen. Eventually I fear that those of us will have to quit our jobs because they’ll demand the use of touchscreen, or who knows what other basic day to day things they’ll render inaccessible because of this nonsense trend.

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