CES round up day five: Touch screens into keyboards and bendable phones

Alex Walls
January 11, 2013

Physical buttons on a touch screen surface:

Holy invention Batman!  Doing the news rounds from CES this week is Tactuss tactile user interface, or in layman’s terms, a crazy-sauce transparent layer which replaces the glass or plastic sitting atop the touch screen section of a smartphone or tablet.

Why is such a layer worth mentioning, I hear you ask? (No really, you did).  Because the cover can create transparent, physical buttons on the device, meaning a keyboard can appear for responsive typing, and then sink back to leave a smooth, see-through screen.

Tactus’s video gives a demonstration.

Tactus Technology – CES 2013 from Tactus Technology Inc. on Vimeo.

The company’s white paper says the multi-layer panel varies in thickness from about 0.75mm to 1mm.  The top most layer is a clear polymer with a number of tiny holes connecting a series of channels filled with a fluid that essentially, is designed so that the panel remains transparent.  Increasing pressure causes fluid to push up through the holes and against the top layer, making it expand in pre-set locations.
Basically, this means physical, transparent buttons rise out of the service of the tablet, due to fluid being forced against the panel, triggered by a proximity sensor or a software application.

The company says it takes less than one second for the buttons to rise or recede, and once formed, users can type or rest their fingers on them like a keyboard. To remove the buttons, pressure is reduced, the buttons recede, and the surface becomes flat again. Panel size, button size, shape and firmness are customisable, Tactus says.
“It is possible to create almost any type of button configuration or layout on a panel, and that configuration is set in the manufacturing process.”

Tacts says the power requirements are minimal but the white paper doesn’t mention strength of screen or integrity of the cover, which is a big question – Gorilla Glass is a business for a reason.  Tactus’s white paper says only that anti-scratch and fingerprint coatings can be used on the surface, and that “even if the touchscreen cracks, the tactile surface will function normally if it isn’t damaged since it is independent of both the touch sensor and the LCD screen.”

The invention has actually been around for a while, seeing its first public appearance in June 2012.  Its appearance at CES this week showed the screen on a tablet.

Samsung’s bendable phone:

The other news on the tech block is Samsung’s paper thin, bendable phone offering.  With displays made of polymer plastic rather than glass, the phones and tablets will reportedly be unbreakable, withstanding blows and drops without screen cracks, as well as bendable, the Wall Street Journal reported.  The phone is made from of an organic light emitting diodes (OLED) display and a “match box sized” control unit, the Daily Mail reported.

Displayed at CES this week, the unit is in the last phase of development, the Journal said (subscription required), and the phones are expected to be released in the first half of next year.

Onlookers reported seeing the prototype fold into a tube at CES, but the company has yet to crack being able to fold the phone completely without exposing the diodes to air, apparently.


About the Author

Share this article