Ever since the touchscreen revolution, smartphone users who often send messages and emails have found that the lack of a physical keyboard makes fast and accurate typing much of a hassle.
Obviously, those users were much inclined to use BlackBerry smartphones for their typing mania, although there are several notable Android smartphone who featured a full QWERTY physical keyboard as well (the Motorola Droid series is the best example I can think of at the moment).
The problem encountered by most users when using touchscreen keyboards is that such keyboards lack tactile feedback: visual differentiators do exist, but your fingers can’t tell if they’re above one key, the other, or somewhere in the middle. Fortunately, we might be only a couple of years away from the definitive solution to this problem, as Tactus Technology has recently announced that they are working on a touchscreen prototype with shape shifting physical keys. I know, way cool, right?
I’m not a psychic, but I’m willing to bet that the question on everyone’s lips right about now is “how does it work?”. No, it’s not magic, nor is it alien technology. Instead, Tactus are using a technology called “microfluidics” to circulate and trap a transparent liquid inside predefined channels. The liquid will create a uniform bump in the deformable membrane it is contained in, and voila, you’ve got yourself a transparent physical keyboard. When you want to dismiss the keyboard, the fluid retracts and the membrane is lowered. The “raising” and “lowering” of the fluid will supposedly only take a few seconds.
The biggest current limitation is the fact that the keys can be formed only in the predefined channels that the manufacturer has set up (say, a QWERTY keyboard), but Tactus engineers are working on a way to make these patterns more flexible so that each app can create its own physical buttons.
In addition, another drawback is the fact that (at the current state of the technology) the channels are still visible even when the keys are down. Some believe that the fluid layer and the flexible membrane might damage the overall display quality, but please bear in mind that this tech is still in its pre-beta (aka alpha) phase and, as with all revolutionary tech, time will iron out the disadvantages it faces in the concept stage.
All worries about extensive power consumption should be dismissed, as Craig Ciesla, CEO and co-founder of Tactus Technology has announced that no more than 2 percent of the battery will be drained in a full day’s use.
Here's an official video showcasing this exciting new tech:
Drawbacks aside, this technology will surely change the way we control smartphones and tablets, just give it a couple of years. Expected to hit the market by the end of 2013, this tech will not only change the way we type on our smartphones, but also the smartphone/tablet gaming sector, as the microfluid can be programmed to raise in the form of an analog button pad. However, there is still a long way to go before the fluid system will be able to measure variations in pressure.
Although Tactus’s microfluid system still has to overcome many of the obstacles it faces on the road towards mass-adoption, I wouldn’t be surprised if major Android device manufacturers (think HTC, Samsung, LG) will adopt this tech in one form or the other by the end of next year.
What do you guys think? Is this exactly the tech that physical QWERTY keyboard fans need to finally make the jump to touchscreen-only devices? Let us know in the comment section below!