Now you see them, now you donít. Thatís the whole point of Tactus Technologyís new virtual physical mobile touchscreen; and if that seems like a contradiction in terms, it is. Almost.
The Fremont, Calif.-based startup has been experimenting with microfluidic panels, which can make a touchscreen more dynamic, providing "buttons" when theyíre needed, and having them melt away again when theyíre not.
Many mobile gripes center around the fact that texting on a touchscreen can be very difficult, with or without fat fingers. The fact is, people just like the feeling of pressing something . Companies have been experimenting with all kinds of ways to provide this tactile feedback, mostly centered around haptics. But Tactus believes it has found a more elegant solution. And when I say solution, I mean that literally, in the liquid sense.
In Tactusí vision of the future, mobile screens will lie atop a reservoir of fluid with various micro-channels and compartments.
When the device realizes that the user needs a keypad--say when wanting to compose a note, email or text--an actuator pumps more fluid into the various channels, inflating the buttons and raising them markedly from the elastomeric display.
The user can then tap away at the raised bumps contentedly. And, when finished, the panel drains its liquid back into the sub-screen reservoir within a second.
Also, unlike haptics, which is still as sensitive to accidental touch as a regular touchscreen, Tactusí model would require the user to apply a small amount of pressure, just like on a regular keypad.
The firm has managed to raise $6 million so far in venture funding, and is said to be working with Taiwanese touch-screen manufacturer TPK.
Itís thought the first Tactus enabled products could even make it to market in late 2013. I know a lot of people who wonít be able to wait to get their hands on it.
This is an interesting development indeed. I can see a mechanical pump extending the buttons when a cover is opened, which would not consume any power at all. That might be the best way to make it work. But it seems that the whole system life would be much shorter, meaning the phones may not last the complete six months to their intended obsolescence, which would mean that the makers would need to shorten the warranty time a bit. And anybody who is such an impatient jerk that they can't wait a few seconds for the buttons to extend should be sent back to using a rotary dial phone.