Tactus Technology has demonstrated the world’s first touchscreen with the ability to create shapes that rise out of and recede back in to the display itself. This is a huge step forwards in haptic technologies, as the holy grail of touchscreen interfaces has been the ability to provide a variable and controllable tactile experience for the user ever since multitouch capacitive displays became the standard.
The technology itself does not add any thickness to current capacitive technologies, nor does it place limitation on modern multitouch displays. In fact, the tactile layer can actually be added to a capacitive display in place of an already existing layer that would be swapped out to make way for the tactile panel. So this isn’t some kind of entirely new display that has been developed here, rather it’s just a layer that can be added to pre-existing technologies during the manufacturing process.
Right now the technology shown off by Tactus seems limited to very specific, pre-programmed shapes such as providing convex buttons for a keypad that then disappear back in to the screen once the keypad is no longer in use.
Despite the current limitations this is actually a huge deal. Not only will this have obvious immediate applications for assisting the visually impaired, but will benefit the average user as well. For instance, typing while walking would be easier, as a user would have a better idea what key they were hitting without having to look.
This benefit actually relates back to an article we did a while ago regarding an American city that has actually banned texting while walking. The city office made the move in response to the growing number of accidents involving pedestrians that had been caused by the pedestrian maintaining insufficient awareness of their surroundings as a result of tinkering with their smartphone. Being able to look where you’re going while typing could hopefully avoid such stringent laws becoming commonplace elsewhere in the world.
Mostly we feel that it would just help provide a more well-rounded experience for a touchscreen. Imagine raised links, or “Go To” buttons that actually sit slightly out of the screen. These wouldn’t be incredible uses, but they would assist in offering a more fluid and intuitive interface for users. Further development may even see tactile images and webpage layouts.
Tactus’ achievement also reminds us of an article we posted a long time ago regarding haptic feedback and the future aims of scientists and companies. In it we discussed potential future uses for a haptic display, such as a web page allowing prospective buyers to actually feel a fabric before buying an item of clothing. This eventuality doesn’t apply to the current basic model that has been demonstrated, but what Tactus has achieved at least demonstrates that we’re heading in the vague direction of a true haptic experience.
Obviously we still have our doubts. It’s possible that extended use of an actively changing display could wear the tactile layer out after a period, leaving the display permanently bumpy or damaged. Hopefully any issues like this will be ironed out by mid 2013, when Tactus hopes to start introducing the display for commercial use.
We don’t think that a tactile screen will necessarily be a huge selling point for the first generation of smartphones and tablets that support it, but it’s possible. We definitely expect it to be at least a big marketing point. Either way, successful or not, we still think that what Tactus has created is impressive, to say the least. We think that tactile screens would be a great addition to the current smartphone experience that may or may not change the way we use and think about our smartphones.