Feeling Up the Flat Touchscreen – Bring It On!


 

 

You know them. I know them. They are the passive-aggressive love-haters of the touchscreen. They lose hair to their inefficient and ineffective texting behavior that is all overlapping thumbs and constant typing corrections. All their texts include follow-up texts that correct the mistakes in the original texts. They are apologists for their misbehavior. They fear for appearing idiotic; their self-esteem is in perpetual downfall. But they are beyond our pity. We tell them to give in and get a Blackberry with a hard keyboard and stop whining. But they refuse to be shunted to the back of the line, and continue to curse every time they push the Send button.

Now let’s be honest, glass houses and all. Who among us doesn’t want better tactile interaction with our touchscreens? Don’t we all feel like victims to the too-smooth glass surface every once in a while? Wouldn’t it be an improvement if our virtual keyboard had a differentiated feel to it that allowed us to have some long-lost tactile precision? Or the icons that filled our little screens were a little 3D-ish so we felt their individual bodies and the gaps between them so that we could have tactile reference

points?

This is where “micro fluidics” enter the picture as the next best technological breakthrough to improve how we interact with our virtual flat-screen universe of phones and tablets and any other surface where virtuality needs physical interaction between our fingers and a surface. Basically, micro fluidics allows a flat surface to instantly change its surface composition to accommodate a change in underlying content. So, for example, a virtual keyboard might literally pop up on the screen so that individual characters can be distinguished and felt to enhance our ability to find and enter text. When finished, the virtual keyboard disappears and the screen returns to its smooth glassy form.

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This revolutionary next step in our slavish devotion to touchscreen technology is being developed by Tactus Technology and others and scheduled to be part of manufactured flat screen technology before the end of the year. Using micro fluidics technology, a thin layer of electrically-charged fluid is laminated onto the tactile layer of the touchsurface device allowing for dynamic expansion (think ripples on a pond) while not inhibiting the pressure sensitivity of a physical action (touch) or compromising visual clarity. With a touchscreen phone, for example, the liquid layer embedded in the screen changes when an electric current is applied and these changes can be controlled to expand (contract) specific areas of the surface. The specificity is such that keyboards and icons can be felt like small bubbles or more defined protrusions on the surface. With this enhanced tactile feature, interaction between the finger and the surface allows for greater precision when texting. It also allows for touch typing that is less reliant on exclusively visual observation. This may be the nail in the phone’s hard keyboard coffin.

Imagine. The dynamic touchscreen is surely the next digital micro-age. The revolution will start innocuously enough with phone and tablet surfaces where buttons appear and disappear as needed. It will evolve and expand to apply to any and all surfaces we might usefully imagine. Any controls or media content would be provided through any glass surface. My refrigerator and my bathroom mirror could provide functionality that excapes the current limits of my imagination. Any otherwise limited-use glasstop surface could possess interactive functionality as a dynamic integrated touchscreen. This invention is astounding not only because of what it can do right now to improve our ability to efficiently and effectively interact with our devices but what it will do to threaten anything with a operable button and to enhance any 2D digital image with a 3D-touch effect. The merely flat touchscreen device would be instantly obsolete. The practical and less practical applications are infinite. Dynamic touchscreen technology will be the next invention we look back upon ten years from now by asking, “How did we used to live without this?”

We shall not cease from exploration, and at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time – T. S. Eliot