How? The wonder of microfluidics.
A top transparent, elastic polymer layer has built-in "blisters" which fill with fluid to form buttons or guides around buttons, thus creating a three-dimensional interface. Once a user no longer needs the buttons or guides, the fluid exits the blisters, leaving a smooth screen.
Now a product incorporating this technology is finally making it to market. MIT Technology Review reports
Tactus Technology has partnered with electronics manufacturer Wistron to produce a protective case for the Ipad Mini to ship later this year. It's expected to retail for between $80 and $100.
Users will slide a button on the side of the Mini case to summon the blister buttons, then slide it back to hide them. See microfluidics in action in Tactus' general promo video here
Tactus says that when the buttons recede, they become invisible and leave "a seamless, flat touch-screen
." According to the MIT Technology Review, when not activated, the buttons are "discernable only by a close examination of the screen protector in the right light. But the panel feels noticeably less smooth to a finger swiping the surface."
Would repeated use cause the blister buttons to become flabby, thus degrading the smoothness factor even more? Only time will tell.
When I first gave up my Blackberry in favor of an Android, I missed the keyboard. Then I found the Swype
app which enables me to text by gliding one finger through a series of letters faster and with less strain that I experienced when pushing raised buttons with two thumbs to text.
My guess is that, like me, most people have adapted to static flat-screen interfaces and will only use morphing surfaces if they are baked into future smartphones. Tactus is working on that too.
Image courtesy of Tactus Technology