If you missed Display Week earlier in June, then you missed more than just Beantown’s legendary history. Tactus Technology and Touch Revolution showed off a unique new tech that might bridge the gap between mobile devices’ keypad barrier.
It’s a conflict as old as… well, if not time, as old as the iPhone. Tactile keyboards on one side, with their more familiar response and accuracy. On the other, flat touchscreen keys: higher tech, less hardware, and (for some) maddeningly imprecise and strange to type on.
The new tech offers both: sandwiching a liquid and gas slurry between thin, hard substrate and thinner, elastic top layer. Voids between the two could literally expand with the gas/liquid mixture, forming squishable, pressable, tactile buttons right on your touchscreen. Sensors located underneath the fluid cavities detect presses and pass the information on to the software.
The technology can work with existing touch-sensing displays, according to Tactus, and consumes minimal power. Early iterations of the tech require that button shapes and layouts be customized, and presumably unchangeable, but the magic of modeling and simulation can already foresee a third or fourth generation version in which new materials and smarter substrates can dynamically form keyboard configurations and button shapes based on the needs of the app.
Tactile-response options for touchscreens are already in demand – look no further than some consumers’ excitement over the upcoming Touchfire Keyboard, a slim overlay for the iPad’s onscreen input. Simply providing tactical response can make button-mashing feel more natural, and thus likely less error-free.
As Phil Callihan noted right here on DMR when discussing his lust for the Touchfire, manufacturing devices like this can be a challenge. Well, manufacturing anything can be a challenge, but there’s a human-interaction factor here that can save or doom a device. Simple things like convenience of use, storage, ergonomics – stuff that once only massive-scale human prototyping could optimize (“that’s too light!” “That falls off!” “That doesn’t stow well!” and on and on) – will eventually become the realm of virtual modeling. And one need not think too hard to imagine the design and testing nightmares the Tactus Technology folks face: after all, the only thing more infuriating than typing on my iPhone would be squeezing a glob of glycerin onto my iPhone while trying to type on it because Tactus’s solution couldn’t stand up to my mighty gamer thumbs.
As mobile grows, the efforts to optimize it for human use do too. Tactus and others are working hard to make mobile devices – super convenient but inherently different from our mouse-and-keyboard roots – into ever more versatile tools.