Everyone who owns a smartphone or tablet knows the irritation of trying (and failing) to tap out words with any accuracy on a touchscreen. The biggest problem is the lack of physical keys, and while keyboard cases are okay, they tend to turn our beautiful, svelte devices into plastic-covered heavyweights. But the latest work from Tactus Technology looks to have this problem solved.
The California-based company has spent a number of years developing a clear, screen protector-like surface that can be rapidly injected with a micro-liquid, to form surface blisters which act like physical keys. The first product containing this technology will go on sale later this year, and while some design specifics are being kept a secret, it is likely to be a phone or tablet case with a rear shell as a mounting spot for a keyboard-summoning switch.
However, this is just the very first baby step in Tactus’ ambitions. A recently-formed partnership with Taiwanese electronics manufacturer, Wistron, means that within the next couple of years, the technology will be production-ready for integration into the next generation of smart devices. In fact, Tactus plans to make its own tablet by 2015.
But there’s more. The clever thing about the use of a fluid is that it is completely flexible, and Tactus says that with the addition of a tiny pump, their surface can be made to blister into pretty much any shape. The future potential, therefore, is huge — Tactus envisions pop-up gaming controls on tablets, shape-shifting keys on the touchscreens of digital cameras, and even the addition of physical buttons to touch-based in-car computing.
Personally, I can’t wait for Tactus’ case to arrive, but as a journalist, I probably type on touchscreens more than the average person. However, I suspect most smartphone and tablet owners will be glad to have some physical feedback from a virtual keyboard…at last!