New Technology Brings On-Demand, Tactile Buttons To Touchscreen Devices

Brad Chacos

Just in case you didn't get the hint from the tablet-tastic Windows 8 Metro UI and those 900,000 Android devices activated each and every day: the world is turning into an increasingly touch-focused place. Touchscreens are nice and all, but we prefer our QWERTY to be a little more… tactile . Enter the appropriately named Tactus Technology: while most of our attention was focused on E3 and Computex last week, Tactus stole the show at the Society for Information Display's (SID) conference in Boston with new technology that can create dynamic physical buttons over a touchscreen display on-demand.

According to the white paper Tactus reps sent us, the multi-layered Tactus display technology sits on top of a device's touch sensors and has "micro channels" comprised of multiple tiny holes in predetermined locations; when physical buttons are needed, an optically clear fluid rises up from a lower layer of the Tactus sheet to fill the holes and create the on-demand physical interface. When physical buttons aren't needed, the fluid exits and the display flattens back out, as you can see in the video below.

Tactus claims the technology doesn't add any additional thickness to the touchscreen, as the 0.75mm to 1mm Tactus display replaces the topmost layer of glass or plastic found in current touchscreens. The buttons raise and lower in less than a second. Buttons of virtually any shape and varying heights can be created with the technology, but given its design, the buttons will be limited to whichever keys OEMs choose to include, such as the numeric dialer and QWERTY keypad found in phones.

The company also claims that the morphing display uses very little additional energy, as it only draws power when altering the fluid pressure to initially raise or lower a button. By contrast, vibrating haptic displays suck down juice whenever a button is pressed.

Tactus showed off a prototype of the morphing touchscreen display on an Android tablet at SID and Engadget got its hands on the goodie , proclaiming it to be "truly impressive" despite giving the display a look that's "a mash-up of matte and glossy."

The first Tactus technology-enabled devices aren't expected to ship until next year, but we gotta say, the idea of a Windows 8 tablet or AIO with a dynamic, on-demand tactile keyboard is definitely intriguing. What do you think?

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