Touch screen keyboards with physical buttons?

I love my smart phone and now a days, who doesn’t?  One thing I’ve never really been a fan of is the keyboard and typing on the touch screen smart phones   While the days of the physical keyboards are over, a la the old blackberry qwerty keyboards, that doesn’t mean that the days of having actual keyboard buttons are over.

A new startup company based out in California called Tactus Technology has come up with a way to have actual physical buttons pop up off your touch screen when your keyboard is enabled and then when your done typing, have the buttons fall flat, bringing back the flatness of the touch screen.

According to the Tactus website, “Tactus provides a new dimension of user interface with a fundamentally unique solution: application-controlled, completely transparent physical buttons that rise up from the touch-screen surface on demand. With the buttons enabled, users can push and type or rest their fingers as they would with any physical button or keyboard. When the buttons are disabled, they recede into the screen, becoming invisible and leaving a smooth, seamless flat touch-screen with maximum viewing area.”

“Our Tactile Layer™ technology easily integrates with today’s touchscreen-based devices (smart phones, tablets, personal navigation systems, gaming devices, etc.) by simply replacing the front layer of the display stack, known as the “lens”, “window” or “cover glass”. Our dynamic Tactile Layer component is the same thickness as the layer it replaces and requires no change to the underlying display or touch sensor.”

How does it work you ask?  Well according to Cnet, “it starts with a panel that has channels built into it. The channels are filled with a non-toxic fluid. By increasing the pressure in the channels, the fluid pushes up the surface of the panel, creating an actual key. What’s more, Tactus says the pressure will be adjustable, so the keys could feel a bit squishy, like a gel pack or they could be harder, like the plastic keys on a laptop.”

Tactus says it is hoping to have this in production by the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014 and hasn’t really said what companies they have been in talks with, but one partnership that has been announced is with Touch Revolution, a California company that makes touch displays.

There are a few kinks that still need to be worked out like the durability of the bubbles and that it only works in a fixed single array, meaning it would only work in either portrait or landscape mode, not both.  The good news is that the fluid that fills the bubbles is non toxic and won’t harm you or your device which is good and that by the time this is available the durability will be where it needs to be to withstand fingernails or pens trying to pierce the bubble.

The other cool thing is that the pressure sensitivity of the microfluidics can be adjusted by the user, meaning you can adjust how hard or soft you want your buttons to actually feel.

I think this is a really fantastic idea.  Over time this should almost definitely be in all touch screen smart phones and tablets.  While typing on the flat surface of a touch screen isn’t the worst thing in the world, its way easier to type or text when you can feel the actual raised buttons on the screen.

I’ll be interested to see who will partner up with Tactus and when this technology will be available in iPhones and other smart devices, but I can’t wait because I’m over typing on a flat touch screen.

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