The smooth exterior glass of touchscreen displays is great for letting your fingers glide freely while performing various swipes and gestures. However, the lack of physical buttons can make typing a pain, especially if you have to crank out more than a sentence or two. Tactus aims to improve the situation with a slick screen layer that allows tactile buttons to bubble up from the surface of an otherwise flat display. The technology was first demoed at CES this year, and TechCrunch now says that Tactus has partnered with Synaptics to create a reference design to woo tablet makers. Here's a video of the Tactus tech in action:
Looks pretty slick to me. The buttons rise and fall almost instantly. When they're recessed, the screen looks perfectly flat. The buttons need to be depressed to activate each key, allowing one's fingertips to rest naturally on the keyboard without generating inadvertent input.
Tactus has published a whitepaper (PDF) that provides additional details on its novel technology, which creates the buttons by piping fluid through tiny holes beneath the display's outer layer. Apparently, it's possible to vary not only the size and shape of the buttons, but also how much force is required to depress them. The button layout isn't dynamic, though; it must be set at the factory.
According to Tactus Vice President of sales and marketing RK Parthasarathy, the pop-up buttons aren't too costly to implement. We could see Tactus' tech applied to budget tablets that compete on price with devices like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire, TechCrunch says. Tellingly, the reference design is a 7" Android slate. Device makers will purportedly get their hands on that unit in June, and the first commercial devices using the technology are expected to appear by next year's Consumer Electronics Show or perhaps even earlier.