Smartphones are great, I think we can all agree on that. They’re little computers in your hand that can do almost anything short of cooking dinner. There is a divide however: You either have to go with a completely touch screen phone or something bulkier if you want a real keyboard with raised keys.
Personally, I don’t like typing on a completely smooth surface. The only haptic feedback you get are a click and a vibrate. Those are fine, but since they’re after the press and you can’t feel if you’ve touched the wrong key, you’re getting what amounts to useless feedback. On a raised, physical keyboard you get haptic feedback before you press any keys so you know where your fingers lie.
The dilemma over the years has been the trade-off. If you want a sleek, flat screen smartphone you had to accept only virtual keys. If you wanted physical keys you either went with a Blackberry or one of the few, bulky models of smartphone that had a slide-out keyboard. Neither option was really acceptable to most consumers who’ve resigned themselves to typing on smooth glass hoping they hit the right key.
Well, that may be a thing of the past as Scientific American reports. What if you could buy a smartphone that would “grow” keys as you needed them then have them flatten out and disappear as if they never existed? Here we’d have the best of both worlds without sacrificing the sleek designs we all seem to love.
Tactus Technology has come up with such a system what would match the weight and thickness of current touch screens, but actually give you real buttons “on demand” per application. Tactus expects the commercial applications of this technology to hit mobile phones, tablets, GPS devices and just about anything currently using a flat screen for input by next year.
The way it works is the screen would be made of a lower sheet of glass or plastic, much like they are now, but covered with a thin, elastic layer of polymers or silicon-based elastomers (I’m pretty sure this is a fancy way of saying thin, stretchy stuff.). Small holes would penetrate the rigid glass layer to allow a gas or liquid to be pushed under the top elastic surface to form the buttons. When an application required buttons it would activate a system whereby the appropriate buttons are not only displayed on the screen, but raised buttons would grow then disappear once the app was closed.
This technology looks like the perfect compromise between completely flat interfaces and raised, tactile button interfaces. Obviously for those who prefer their typing experience to remain planar, all they’d have to do is turn off the button-creating function, but for those of us who like to feel our keys this is nothing short of a minor miracle.
Of course, knowing the internet I can see this being hijacked to create raised, 3D images. Just what we need, another reason for kids to never put down their phones.
To read the full Scientific American article click HERE.
To visit the Tactus Technology site click HERE.