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Posted on January 11th, 2013 by Tim Danton

Tactus first look: the screen technology that adds a physical keyboard to a tablet

We wouldn’t have believed this if we hadn’t seen it with our eyes, but Tactus has created a way to add a genuine, physical keyboard to any touchscreen device. The cleverest bit: it appears when you’re typing and disappears when you no longer need to enter text.

You can see the tech in action above, but the photos below show the process in action too: top with the buttons, middle with the process halfway through switching, and the final photo shows the touchscreen in its default non-bumpy state.

Tactus at CES 2013 With keyboard

Tactus at CES 2013 Halfway through

Tactus at CES 2013 No bumps

It works with anything that includes a touchscreen – smartphone, tablet, satnav, you name it – by replacing the top layer you traditionally find on a touchscreen with Tactus’s own Tactile Layer: it claims it’s the same thickness, so nothing else needs to change.

The pictures below give you some idea of how it works.

Dynamic microfluidic layer

Above is the layer in the off state. The diagram shows the tiny holes that perforate the surface, leading down to channels filled with fluid.

Fluid pressure raises buttons

By increasing the fluid pressure, it heads up through the holes and expands into the surface you can see in the photos above. In the case of Tactus’s technology, the OS saying “activate keyboard” also activates an increase in fluid pressure.

It’s darn clever, and Tactus says it’s already looking into production and has received interest from a range of manufacturers – not just Android, but Windows too.

Don’t expect retail add-on units to hit the shelves, though, because this is a technology that device manufacturers need to invest in at time of manufacture. Sorry.

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9 Responses to “ Tactus first look: the screen technology that adds a physical keyboard to a tablet ”

  1. Sam Says:
    January 12th, 2013 at 11:44 am

    This looks superb. Finally some innovation in the smart phone market that I can get excited about!!

     
  2. Jo Says:
    January 12th, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    Looks like it is not dynamic!?! What will happen when you rotate the screen or change the layout of the onscreen keyboard, kind of pointless, not much better than a hardware keyboard

     
  3. Ian Tullie Says:
    January 13th, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Interesting and it’s nice to see a solution to some of the flat screen keyboard issues, but I would imagine that the “buttons” are going to be felt all the time. Also, pump, fluid, microcircuitry? Sounds like they’re going to have to make the top layer very robust to ensure it doesn’t tear/scratch for leaks, the pump very high duty to ensure it doesn’t in the expected lifetime of the device, and the fluid non-conductive so it doesn’t ruin the device should either of the above break.

     
  4. David Wright Says:
    January 14th, 2013 at 7:39 am

    Wasn’t this the “next big thing” 3 or 4 years ago? I seem to remember it coming along about the same time as the original BlackBerry Torch came out.

     
  5. Paul Says:
    January 15th, 2013 at 12:47 am

    It still doesn’t solve one of the best benefits of proper hardware QWERTY landscape slider phone — when in landscape mode you can type fast but also SEE what you are actually writing as a virtual keyboard doesn’t occupy most of your screen.

     
  6. Tim Says:
    January 15th, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Paul,
    Spot on. With vast numbers of near identical phones, it is amazing that no one has differentiated themselves by making a slider phone.

     
  7. Ben Says:
    January 17th, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Can you imagine what this could be used for in terms of gaming on phones, it would be great to have joy pad buttons that come out the screen.

     
  8. Samo Says:
    January 17th, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    I was looking forward to something like this on the iPad 4 with rumors of hepatic feedback buzzing around. , lets hope this and similar technology are the next big innovation for tablets. If they include and option for developers to just raise a d-pad and 4 button style interface it could drastically improve tablet gaming.

     
  9. Olly Says:
    July 2nd, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    I’m an Iphone user. My keyboard works fine. I 100% do not need the screen to suddenly have buttons. That’s the reason the Iphone was so popular in the first place. I believe this product is completely pointless and I can’t imagine why anyone would actually need it.

     

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