Kewl Design Alert: Pop-Up Touchscreen Keyboard Disappears When You Don't Need It

On Friday, I went to a conference and was disappointed to realize that I had forgotten to charge my tablet overnight. I have an Asus Transformer Prime, which is dockable into a keyboard. I usually take all of my notes directly in Evernote, and since I knew I would be sharing them with my colleagues, had no intention of switching to paper, hand-writing them only to transcribe them later. So I grudgingly grabbed my tablet and headed to the conference. Just as I suspected, I hated the experience of typing the whole time on the tablet. It felt so unresponsive and slow compared to an actual keyboard. I made a mental note never to forget to charge my keyboard again.

Now, forgetting to charge my keyboard probably wouldn't have bothered me so much if I'd had a tablet with this: an on-demand pop-up keyboard.

That's right: pop-up. Not slide-out or on-screen. Pop-up.

Credit: Tactus Technology
Tactus Technology has developed a disappearing/ reappearing keyboard using microfluidics that can be triggered by touchscreen users on demand. The screen design incorporates a transparent layer embedded with small channels filled with a non-toxic fluid, which can fill small pockets to make them "bubble up" and form a tactile keyboard on an otherwise smooth touchscreen. So, your shiny smooth tablet, smartphone or hell, dare I say it, smart fridge (lulz) could have a tactile keyboard whenever you need it.

[Aside: Anyone else thinks that the round "buttons" look a little too much like bubble wrap? Maybe that's just me, but I can just imagine trying to explain to a kid not to try to pop the bubbles on the screen. LOL]

Tactus claims that the added fluid is lightweight and non-toxic. It is expected to have minimal impact on both the weight and the power usage on your device, which means that you won't suddenly be carrying a battery-draining water balloon of a phone in your pocket. And what if you drop your precious? Well for one thing, let's hope that Apple doesn't jump onto this bandwagon until it discovers the magic that is Gorilla glass.

[Aside: Seriously, OMGWTF is wrong with them? Everyone I know who owns an iThing has managed to drop it and damage/destroy the glass front or back. It's insane. Or is it? Is that Apple's design ploy to ensure that people are always buying new iThings? Personally, I have managed to drop my Samsung dozens of times on the ceramic kitchen floor and it has nary a ding. Gorilla glass FTW!]

Where was I? Right, apparently Tactus isn't looking to sell this to us; they want to partner with manufacturers to incorporate their funky tech into our future phones and tablets. So, they have been testing its ability to withstand impact and usage over time. And in terms of safety — say, if your screen should leak — they are using a non-toxic fluid so you don't have to worry about it disintegrating your jeans or shirt pocket.

Now, not only would it be handy to call up a touch keyboard whenever you need it, but consider the possibilities if the button configurations and functionality could be designed to be app-specific: a different set of buttons when you are making a call, typing a note, playing a game, using an app... In fact, one of the uses Tactus has been showcasing is for universal remotes, featuring a contextual design where only the buttons related to the task at hand would appear. So you could control your TV without accidentally turning on your game console (not that anyone here has ever done that, nope *looks away*). Very smart design indeed.

If I could do anything with this tech, I would definitely want it on my tablet but I think I would want it even more on my phone. All over the screen. The option for app-specific buttons to appear on demand:
  • Silent mode: if an alert came on or a call came in when the phone was in silent mode, it would be so much easier to dismiss if there were buttons without having to look at the screen. Especially handy in a meeting.
  • Camera app: feel the button on the screen when taking selfies
  • Calculator app: nice big buttons all over the screen for faster typing
  • Facebook and other social apps: a button over every link to mimize "fat finger syndrome", so I can Actually hit "Like" instead of "Share"
  • Gaming: to show in-game controls
  • Control4: I use my phone to control my wired house, and would love if the remote had buttons on it, especially when I am fumbling with it to turn off the lights before I go to sleep (#firstWorldProblems) or even when my alarm goes off in the morning and I am just not coordinated enough to turn it off.
I could go on and on.

The Engadget guys checked out the tech at CES earlier this year and chatted with the Tactus folks. Take a look at this in action and just imagine all of the potential uses.

(Source: CNET)

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