With voice commands seeing mediocre acceptance within the smartphone industry, that means many of us are going to be left with flat touchscreens to input commands.
And considering it’s likely that the entire planet is going to be covered in touch-sensitive displays in the future, that’s a whole lot of flat, unresponsive glass we’re going to be dealing with on a daily basis.
Of course, new forms of user interface technology show a promising alternative to flat glass alone. Gesture control technology, like Microsoft’s (Nasdaq: MSFT) Kinect and the Leap sensor, certainly has potential. But for some tasks, there’s really no substitute for a tactile response.
Take the keyboard, for instance. I think it’s safe to say that most people prefer to type on a keyboard that has actual keys. It’s why you don’t often see people composing novels on an iPad. And a motion-controlled keyboard could end up being a disaster.
You may recall an innovative touchscreen technology from Senseg that I’ve discussed before. Senseg developed a way to deliver electrostatic charges through the touchscreen that corresponded with an application or object shown on the display. Essentially these charges would send harmless shocks of different intensities to mimic edges of a keyboard key or a page in an e-book.
Plus, WSD Insider readers were clued in to a standout player in the haptic feedback space long before anyone else was talking about it. (Upgrade your subscription today to see all the details.)
Now, a new innovation from Tactus is about to breathe even more life into today’s display technology. Here’s how…
Tactus Brings Us On-Demand Buttons for Touchscreens
While Senseg relies on electrostatic charges to simulate different tactile sensations, Tactus has found a way to actually bring real texture to flat glass.
It starts with a transparent, one-millimeter thick layer of glass or plastic set on top of a display. The layer is packed with micro-channels that contain a nontoxic liquid.
Without getting overly technical, the layer is able to manipulate the liquid to bulge out in certain areas, creating transparent buttons over the flat glass.
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The transition can happen in less than a second, and it feels just like a physical keyboard – not just the illusion of a keyboard you’d get with Senseg.
What’s great is that once you don’t need the buttons anymore, the display technology can “draw the fluid out and the buttons recede back to their original flat state… You’re left with a surface where you don’t see anything,” says CEO, Craig Ciesla. This works by integrating a proximity sensor that senses when your hand is close to the screen.
That way, you can enjoy the convenience of a physical keyboard, without sacrificing the larger screen when it’s time to watch videos or play games. And phone makers can also maintain a slimmer form than you’d see in keyboard-equipped smartphones.
Check out the video below to see it in action. It comes complete with an unnecessarily cheesy intro, but it’s still worth a look:
What’s great about this display technology is that, like Senseg’s innovation, it’s not just for smartphone keyboards.
Once the technology is in phones, developers can design applications that incorporate the technology wherever they think a physical sensation would elevate the user experience. Imagine, for instance, feeling a tiny bubble form on your iPhone as you aim the slingshot in Angry Birds.
It’s like Nate Saal, VP of Business Development at Tactus, says: “We are not a keyboard technology, nor a button technology; we are a user interface technology where people can take our technology and create whatever kind of interface they want.”
The best part is, we don’t have to wait too terribly long to find out how the technology will be put into action, since the company is shipping the display technology to manufacturers next year.
In the meantime, I’m hoping someone figures out a way to combine Tactus’ technology with Senseg’s. The combination of electrostatic fields and physical screen manipulation would completely revolutionize today’s boring touchscreens.