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World’s First Lumpy Tablet; Will Tactus’ ‘Morphing Tactile Tech’ Replace Touchscreens With Typescreens? [VIDEO]

By Mo Mozuch on January 14, 2013 10:53 AM EST 0

The world's first lumpy tablet debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. Tactus, a tech company in California, has developed a keyboard for touchscreen devices where the buttons actually rise up out of the screen, then recede when you're done using them. In short, the world's first lumpy tablet looks to be a marriage between the touch screen and QWERTY keyboard that has never been seen before. Take a look at this video from Endgadget.

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The buttons on the world's first lumpy tablet are "application controlled" according to the company's website. This means that the buttons won't be popping up at random every time you use your tablet or smartphone and instead are controlled by the apps that require you to punch in data. This also opens up the possibility that some apps won't make use of the technology.

"Tactus is the only solution to both 'orientation' and 'confirmation' problems that are inherent in touch screens," said the company in a statement.

The world's first lumpy tablet looks impressive, almost like magic. Of course, it's not magic. The world's first lumpy tablet just runs off some mind boggling science. Officially called the 'Tactus Tactile Layer Surface' the world's first lumpy tablet works by using multiple layers of ultra-thin polymer connected to "micro-holes" that pump fluid into tiny gaps in the polymer when given a signal by the application. This diagram from the company explains further.

photo: tactustechnology.com
photo: tactustechnology.com

Tactus CEO Craig Ciesla told The Verge that the vision for the company is to give people what they want from a touchscreen -- a screen that touches back.

"As human beings, we really want to be able to feel things," Ciesla said. "We really want that tactility. The vision for Tactus is that our technology has the ability to be the next-generation user interface really anywhere you see a touchscreen."

The world's first lumpy tablet is still in the prototype phase, and reporters who used the device at CES reported some obvious flaws in the design. First, as Nathan Ingraham of The Verge points out, the location of the keys is fixed, meaning any QWERTY style keyboard that works vertically won't work horizontally. Also, the keys that pop up on the world's first lumpy tablet aren't keys in the conventional sense. They sense touch, not the act of being pressed, so using the world's first lumpy tablet is still like using a touchscreen. Users don't get to type away like they would on the QWERTY keyboard on a Blackberry, for example.

The tech site Blorge also felt that the world's first lumpy tablet needed some work before it was real-life ready. Durability is a key issue for smartphone and tablet devices, and the world's first lumpy tablet uses a thin, flexible top layer instead of the durable Gorilla Glass used by most mobile devices.

"With Tactus techonology the top layer has to be flexible so that the keyboard can rise from the flat screen," the blog states. "Does that mean that it could be inadvertently punctured?"

VentureBeat also brought another pragmatic criticism to the world's first lumpy tablet: cost. Companies have proven millions of times that consumers are OK with a touchscreen keyboard, and are willing to sacrifice physical buttons for more screen space (anyone with RIMM stock can tell you that). Will big league tech companies like Apple and Samsung be willing to re-engineer their billion-dollar designs to incorporate a heavier, more fragile touchscreen just so that people who don't miss buttons can have buttons again?

The world's first lumpy tablet may not be a game changer, yet, but the promising technology could make smartphones accessible for the visually impaired, allowing blind people to read braille on a smartphone for the first time. Ciesla says devices using the technology will be available later this year.

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