Keyboard loyalists beware: Touchscreens are taking over the world.
Driven mostly by mobile devices like Apple’s (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone and iPad, DisplaySearch expects total revenue for the touchscreen display industry to hit $13.4 billion this year, and then blast to $23.9 billion by 2017.
But don’t expect this mega trend to just capture the smartphone and tablet markets. As more people get accustomed to computing without a traditional keyboard, full PCs are on the hit list, too.
Back in April 2010, Gartner predicated a huge uptick in touchscreen computers, saying…
“By 2015, we expect more than 50% of PCs purchased for users under the age of 15 will have touchscreens, up from fewer than 2% in 2009… And as with other consumer technologies, enterprises will eventually be forced to [conform as well].”
Yet, while touchscreens work great for smartphones and tablets, PCs are another story. After all, there’s something about the reassuring, tactile response of a trusty mouse and keyboard that a flat screen can’t replace.
Sure, some devices offer a physical vibration (or haptic) effect when making selections or typing with onscreen keyboards. But for the most part, the technology falls short of simulating an actual button press.
Luckily, one particular display-industry innovator just discovered a way to make the touchscreen experience more electrifying. Literally.
Meet the “Tixel”
Based in Helsinki, Finland, Senseg’s E-Sense technology simulates advanced tactile experiences on modern displays.
But instead of employing a vibration effect within a device like current haptic devices, E-Sense generates a safe electric field above a display that mimics various sensations and textures.
Here’s a rundown of the device’s basic three-part system:
- A layer of tactile pixels – or “tixels” – measuring at an ultra-thin 10 micrometers (about the width of two spider web strands). And two non-conductive layers that control the electric field output.
- An electronic module that creates the E-Sense effects and delivers them to the tixels.
- Software to integrate the technology into the user interface, which establishes the desired effects.
Once triggered, tiny electrical charges are immediately sent through the tixels, which then emit a controlled electric field to your fingertip. This field can travel several millimeters above the touchscreen surface.
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Keep in mind, you never actually come into contact with the electric current. Just the field that delivers the tactile effect.
For instance, while typing on a touchscreen keyboard, a pulse after each input replicates the sensation of a key pushing back. An electric field over the entire keyboard simulates the ridges between keys as your fingers hover over it.
In other words, the technology allows to you type without the typical visual confirmation touchscreen keyboards usually require.
According to Senseg, the technology can be used for several practical applications, like providing a tactile response to touch-based slide controls (like volume), or simulating the texture of fabric, the feeling of distinct edges to hyperlinks on web pages, or raised button controls to enhance mobile gaming.
And that’s just the beginning.
With the E-Sense software, developers can combine tixel responses to essentially create an unlimited range of electro-sensory applications.
Imagine being able to exchange a handshake over Skype. Or feeling the familiar weight of a computer mouse under your hand as you glide over a high-tech desk.
As farfetched as this may sound, the technology’s hitting the market sooner than you think.
Electro-Sensory Feedback – Coming Soon to a Device Near You
Toshiba’s already onboard. The company integrated E-Sense technology into its own user interface and showed it off at the Embedded Systems Expo in May. It’s currently integrating the technology into ereaders, mobile phones and PCs.
And more hardware manufacturers won’t be far behind. Bet on it.
You see, according to Senseg, tixels can be applied to “virtually any surface, regardless of size or form factor,” meaning it’s easy to install in current products.
It’s energy efficient, too, consuming about 1% of a smartphone battery after a full day of heavy use. And it’s cheap, costing around $0.10 to $0.20 per unit in mass production, according to Toshiba.
Not a bad deal. Even if it’s just to placate touchscreen-averse consumers.
Bottom line, any innovator adding depth to the otherwise flat touchscreen market is worthy of your attention right now.
And even though Senseg is privately held, there’s another surefire way to profit from the nascent haptic feedback market. See below for details.