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Cellphones Displays Science Technology

Buttons That Morph Out of Your Touchscreen 134

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-thought-we-only-needed-one-button dept.
kkleiner writes "Wouldn't it be awesome if our tablets and smartphones could have buttons that morphed out of the touchscreen, and then went away again when we didn't need them? It sounds like magic, but now it is reality. Created by Tactus Technology, a Fremont, California-based start-up, Tactus is a deformable layer that sits on top of a touchscreen sensor and display. 'The layer is about 0.75mm to 1mm thick, and at its top sits a deformable, clear layer 200 nm thick. Beneath the clear layer a fluid travels through micro-channels and is pushed up through tiny holes, deforming the clear layer to create buttons or shapes. The buttons or patterns remain for however long they are needed, just for a few seconds or for hours when you’re using your iPad to write that novel. And because the fluid is trapped inside the buttons, they can remain for however long without additional power consumption. They come or go pretty quickly, taking only a second to form or disappear.'"
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Buttons That Morph Out of Your Touchscreen

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  • Oh great... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Apothem (1921856)
    Now this means when I break my phone I can't use the cracked screen anymore.
    • Re:Oh great... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Max Romantschuk (132276) <max@romantschuk.fi> on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:49AM (#40230245) Homepage

      Now this means when I break my phone I can't use the cracked screen anymore.

      Talk about whining for the sake of whining...

      According to TFA the top layer is flexible, so for all we know these screens might be a more durable alternative in the future? It's too early to tell for sure, but something like this is more or less the holy grail of dynamically configurable user interfaces. I hope they make it work.

      • by geekmux (1040042)

        Now this means when I break my phone I can't use the cracked screen anymore.

        Talk about whining for the sake of whining...

        According to TFA the top layer is flexible, so for all we know these screens might be a more durable alternative in the future? It's too early to tell for sure, but something like this is more or less the holy grail of dynamically configurable user interfaces. I hope they make it work.

        Sorry, but unless this top layer provides a significant layer of protection (which would encroach on a considerable and growing market for screen repair), this is really nothing more than a solution without a problem. Sure, a cool concept, but a rather unnecessary one.

        The touchscreen itself was the "holy grail" of interfaces, and this "morphing out of the screen" concept is hardly new when you consider web advertising. I'm pretty certain that group has figured how to make something "pop-up" on a screen fo

        • by decora (1710862) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @06:21AM (#40230589) Journal

          last i heard, using an iphone while you are blind is pretty annoying.

          • by geekmux (1040042) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @06:28AM (#40230615)

            last i heard, using an iphone while you are blind is pretty annoying.

            So is the rather unbelievable concept that a blind person would spend $500 on a device today with ZERO tactile feedback (although I see your point about future potential).

            • by Americano (920576)

              Turn on Voice Over [svan.ca] on an iPhone, and play around with it. Hell, I use it occasionally in the car to have my iPhone read text messages and emails to me while I drive - those accessibility features are there for a reason, and people with disabilities can make fairly extensive use of the functionality, even without tactile feedback. However, the interface is somewhat clunky - double tapping, swiping around to find the button you want, three-fingered swipes to read... imagine if you could find the button you

          • They have finally figured out how to bring porn to the blind.
          • by Anonymous Coward

            you heard wrong. the iPhone (and all iOS devices) are actually some of the
            most readily accessible devices in mainstream use.
            see: http://svan.ca/blog/2012/blind/ and related links found there

            • by Luyseyal (3154)

              Mod parent up.

              We hosted an accessibility conference [knowbility.org] a few weeks ago and the iPhone was the clear winner as most usable device. Is it 100%? No, of course not. But it is far ahead of Android, though Google has been working on it.

              Haptics would certainly make it even more awesome. Can you imagine using maps with haptics for elevation? For the blind, you could have different heights to represent different features (e.g., highways might be deeper than side roads), all with Braille labels. That would be sweet.

              Anyh

            • "Every third-party application examined by these users was worthy of criticism ranging from “this one thing is annoying” to “the whole thing is completely unusable.”"

        • by Phics (934282)
          Maybe the accelerometer could "auto-inflate" the screen like an airbag when the phone sensed that it was being dropped. Hard disks in laptops already park drive heads using the same technique.
        • by mug funky (910186)

          wow, i find your lack of imagination disturbing.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @06:18AM (#40230573)

        They seem to have addressed the issue of the third dimension, but that's only one part of what makes a button a button. Does it "click"? Is there tactile feedback? Or does a single 'brush' of a fingertip across a raised button trigger the interaction?

        Buttons aren't just lumps. They're clickable, and they need to offer resistance and then "give way" in order to constitute touch feedback. I'm not seeing that here,

        • I should think the system should be aware of how distended every button is at any given time. I don't think you'd get a "click" but it could definitely distinguish between a brush and a push.

      • by gr8_phk (621180)

        According to TFA the top layer is flexible, so for all we know these screens might be a more durable alternative in the future?

        They don't mention what the flexible layer is, but that it is 200nm thick. For comparison your regular plastic wrap is 11um thick. That's over 50 times thicker than the layer they're putting on the screen. So lets assume it's something stronger than polypropylene. Aluminum would not be transparent (except in Star Trek), but thinking from a strength point of view the foil in your ho

    • by gl4ss (559668) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @05:08AM (#40230307) Homepage Journal

      less likely to crack these than gorillawhateverblabla glass screens.

      that's the biggest criticism these are getting.. because people are fixated on the thought that glass touch screens are teh shit. while they're really just shit.

      • Ya flexible is good (Score:5, Informative)

        by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @07:08AM (#40230803)

        That's the thing people forget about hardness is that it is a double edged sword. So they are right in their marketing that Gorilla Glass, and others like it, are very hard. So they are difficult to scratch and so on. Sounds strong... However what it really means is they are brittle. They have a higher failure point, but when they do fail they break pretty badly. For real strength, some flexibility, give, is what you actually want.

        An area where you can see this is knives. Far and away most quality knives are steel, including those made for adverse environments. However a bit of research turns up that you can get advanced ceramic knives. They are much tougher, they don't need sharpening basically ever, and they are real easy to clean. Why then are these not the exclusive knives in all high end kitchens? For that matter, why aren't they the knives of choice whenever you can afford it (they are expensive)?

        The reason is they are brittle, they don't bend. So they are "stronger" than steel in a sense, in that you put pressure on them that would cause a steel knife to flex and they hold fast. However you increase the pressure to a point and then they just fail, shatter, whereas the steel knife would still bend, and then come back. So they are brilliant for cutting vegetables, meats with no bones, and so on but they aren't going to replace your carving knife.

        Same shit with phone screens. Ya the move from plastic to glass means that they are more resistant to minor scratches. However hard impacts, a proper plastic will do a better job of handling.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Same shit with phone screens. Ya the move from plastic to glass means that they are more resistant to minor scratches. However hard impacts, a proper plastic will do a better job of handling.

          I sincerely doubt that an impact that wouldn't do permanent damage to a plastic LCD screen would damage a gorilla glass screen. You're forgetting just how fragile those plastic dispays are. It's TRIVIAL to physically destroy the cells behind the plastic layer with a good impact. It doesn't crack your screen all to hell like a glass one, but the result is only very slightly different; either way, your screen is damaged and must be replaced for full functionality, and why would you want less than full functio

        • Wrong wrong wrong wrong. Gorilla glass is actually very flexible. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYaQnvVwStc [youtube.com]

          They used that glass because it was stronger and more durable than plastic for the same weight. Had they been plastic (and they were before the iPhone 4), they'd crack more frequently.

      • by phayes (202222)

        I've had plastic screened phones in the past, no more. They get all scratched up and touch screen's sucked when new & just got worse over time.

        Glass has properties that make it much better for touchscreens & is being improved all the time. The paper thin glass that Corning has just developped may make most glass even better: http://arstechnica.com/business/2012/06/new-willow-glass-is-rollable-and-paper-thin/ [arstechnica.com]

        I don't see a fragile rubbery surface as an improvement...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    That is fucking amazing!!!

  • by rebelwarlock (1319465) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:23AM (#40230147)
    The author seems to think the buttons look "slick", but they look cheap and cheesy to me. A regular touch screen looks a whole hell of a lot better, in my opinion.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:33AM (#40230179)

      I agree, it looks a tad ugly. Though so did the first UIs for operating systems, and the first of a lot of other things. The first ipod looks fugly now!

      However, think of all the visually impaired people who'd benefit from this, being able to introduce a dynamic braille would help a lot of people I'm sure. Just because you don't like it in blue doesn't mean everyone else will hate it too or find no benefit to the practical use, even if it doesn't look like the ritz of technology.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        However, think of all the visually impaired people who'd benefit from this

        Visually impaired people would benefit from a phone that had no screen at all, but braille buttons and tactile/audio feedback. Why would a blind person want to to pay for an expensive touchscreen that they can't see? Real buttons are far cheaper. Touch screens are for the sighted only.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, there are prettier solutions coming out soon, like tactile feedback screen from Senseg [engadget.com]

    • by macraig (621737) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (giarc.a.kram)> on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:43AM (#40230219)

      They don't look cheap nor cheesy to me. The buttons in the demos simply don't look like keys on a keyboard, which is apparently the comparison you are making. The buttons demonstrated may not be the only form they can take. Tactus has a photo of a "remote" that appears to have squared angular buttons. Regardless, you are dismissing the primary reason for having the pseudo-buttons in favor of a rather shallow and pretentious one based on appearance. The purpose of the buttons isn't to look slick, it's to provide the otherwise absent tactile response.

      • by BasilBrush (643681) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @05:02AM (#40230285)

        It strikes me you can only get tactile response if you touch them, and if you touch a touchscreen, you've operated it.

        I wonder what the answer to this issue is.

        • Re:Looks quite ugly (Score:4, Interesting)

          by BigSlowTarget (325940) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @07:08AM (#40230799) Journal

          Probably monitoring the pressure of the fluid in the buttons rather than the surface of the touchscreen while the buttons are up.

        • by mattr (78516)

          Pushing harder means a wider surface area of fingertip deforming to meet surface. So a light touch does not necessarily activate. That, plus they might be able to tell if you are touching the side of the button, which means buttons smaller than your fingertip which probably don't feel good more like an old hp rpn calculator. Nevertheless clicky buttons is probably on their roadmap in the future. Personally I am wondering more about the freezing point of the capillary fluid and what kind of moire patterns ma

    • by geekmux (1040042)

      The author seems to think the buttons look "slick", but they look cheap and cheesy to me. A regular touch screen looks a whole hell of a lot better, in my opinion.

      Yes, I would agree that "blisters" sitting on my tablet screen give a whole new meaning to viral infection.

      ...or a cool way to let you know you've been DQ'ed in the new online porn matchmaking game...

      "Uh, hey eDoc, my screen has blisters on it...what's that mean?"

  • Scratches (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ByteSlicer (735276) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:30AM (#40230167)
    One of the things I like about current generation smart phones/tablets is that they're very resilient to scratching, using a hardened glass screen.

    This looks like a soft rubbery layer on top, so my guess is that it would be quite vulnerable to scratching and tearing.
    • by Joce640k (829181)

      I already have a plastic screen protector on top of my glass, so do a lot of other people. I don't see any problems with it.

      • When your screen protector gets too scratched up or too dirty, you just peel it off and put a new one. If the same happens with this plastic button layer, I don't think it will be replaced so easily (it's connected to the electronics of your phone).

        Maybe a screen protector on top of the button layer would be possible, if it's sufficiently flexible and resilient at the same time. Most protectors today are made from fairly rigid plastics, so those wouldn't work.
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        I see problems with them all the time. They are not as clear, they smudge terribly and are generally not much better than the glass on the phone.

        Phones these days are pretty darn scratch resistant.

  • Paging Whistler... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dusty101 (765661) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:30AM (#40230171)

    Assuming that it could also be used to display Braille, rhis tech could probably be rather useful for tablet computers and ebook readers for the blind.

  • A fixed key pattern? *Weak*

    • Agreed. See my reply below. Unless they can make it definable by points, rather than fixed keys, its utility will be severely limited.

      And as someone else pointed out: it also places a soft layer over the nice hard capacitive touch screens that took so long to develop. I mean: you don't scratch Gorilla Glass with your plastic-pointed stylus. But you could probably break one of these keys (or maybe all of them, due to pressure loss) with a single pin prick.

      The devices with hard screens have been doing a
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The difference (aside from Latin vs. Greek etymology) is simple -- haptics is a subset of tactile feedback, and refers to systems with providing feedback through actuators, whereas tactile feedback can include stuff like the snap-action in a real keyboard.

        • Congratulations. You are the first person to actually explain that to me.

          Others (and I have asked) were unable to describe to me any difference that was really a difference.
      • Haptic, admittedly, is different from "tactile" itself, but nobody has ever explained how "haptic" is different from "tactile feedback". They are the same thing. Just a marketing word.

        The difference, as far as I've been able to make out, is this: Haptic is touch inducing. Tactile is touch sensing. Things like the extra bit of plastic on the H and J keys, the off-center rotating mass in a vibrating joystick, etc, are haptic devices; some passive, some active. Things like touch screens, bumper sensors on robots, etc, are tactile sensors. They provide the computer with the ability to sense when it is being touched, or when it is touching another object. Sophisticated systems, like fly

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:35AM (#40230187)
    ... unless they can come up with a way to raise them based on a fine grid array rather than fixed cell sizes. Then it would be a truly useful technology.

    Until then, I am sure a company or two will see this useful for raising a telephone keypad above the rest of the display, for example. I don't see it as more finely-controlled than that, because the screens of different devices differ so much.

    Unless it were made into a grid array, it could never be a standard. For long.
    • by adolf (21054)

      I could care less the textures are of fixed position, or on a finely-detailed grid. For the uses that its useful for, this probably doesn't matter much for a first draft of the concept.

      Instead, I worry about the fluid and surface acting as a lens, obfuscating the details below. And I worry about durability: Gorilla Glass is awesome in ways that I never fully appreciated until I myself tested it to destruction, but a squishy membrane over top of it can't be any improvement.

      (And nevermind the effects of sc

      • Perhaps I did not explain myself well. As far as the surface, see the reply I made earlier, below. I expressed the same doubts.

        The only point I was trying to make above was: unless you can define the raised areas on the fly, they will always be of limited utility.
        • by adolf (21054)

          TFS says the thing can redefined quickly. That's good enough for me, for now, too.

          But in addition to my previously-stated concerns, the whole thing seems about as likely to catch on as keyboard condoms [thekeyboardcompany.com]: It can't as much as fun as the real thing.

          • by Amouth (879122)

            there is a difference between

            quickly redefine

            Define dynamically.

            their comment on "quickly redefined " means turn the raised buttons on and off quickly

            What Jane is saying is to be able to define the areas that raise dynamically. The current incarnation of their tech requires the buttons to be raised in s specific place and shape based on what was manufactured. It equivalent to putting a permanent button on the side of the phone. But the true game changing will only occur when you can via software on the fl

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              If there's enough regions it hardly matters that they are aligned on a grid. You can make your windows align on a grid, too, with a little window manager magic.

              • by Amouth (879122)

                your missing the point.. the ability to control one cell/area over another.. right now they have an all or nothing. and Considering that you are trying to overlay a user interface solution to content that is natively displayed in a grid, while you could do it in say radial address scheme it would just add undo burden..

  • I'm having a hard time coming up with the problem this solves, outside of creating a braille touchscreen "keyboard". Obviously, the liquid needs to be transparent so you can see the touchscreen underneath, which means the buttons have to rely on icons displayed on the LCD to indicate what the button does. So, you can now have a raised button on top of an icon on a touchscreen. Please excuse me as I don't get too excited over this. This looks like a solution in search of a problem...

    • by GrahamCox (741991) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:49AM (#40230247) Homepage
      One area this could be a huge benefit would be in-car touchscreens. Right now, the massive rush to touchscreens in cars mean that driving interfaces are suddenly much less safe. They REQUIRE you to use your eyes to locate a region on the screen, and so it diverts your attention away from the road. A tactile touch screen would allow a flexible display to be operated by feel alone, a big safety improvement.
      • by janek78 (861508)

        While I agree with your point about touchscreens in cars, I don't see this as a solution, since these buttons are not pressed, they are touched, you can't just use tactile feedback to locate the right button and then press it, you'll "press" any button you touch. Still, I am curious where this technology will evolve and what uses it will find.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        Then dont use touchscreens. BMW has it right with the big knob control at the center console. Rotate, push, up down left right. this can easily be added to the steering wheel.

        Hell my Jeep I was able to use the 6 stereo buttons to navigate a DashPC decently safe. If the UI is not written by a moron, it can be done easily without a touchscreen or added driver distraction.

        • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @07:58AM (#40231097) Homepage Journal

          Then dont use touchscreens. BMW has it right with the big knob control at the center console. Rotate, push, up down left right. this can easily be added to the steering wheel.

          No, that is TOTALLY WRONG. Because now instead of being able to access muscle memory directly and just reach out your arm and press the button you've pressed dozens of times before, you have to look into your memory and remember the sequence of moves, or look at the screen if you forget them. Any system that forces you to look at the screen rather than being able to just fumble around is taking your eyes off the road and therefore shit. A lot of people will never remember the sequences and thus these systems decrease road safety.

          • You appear to be assuming that one button = one function. When you have an integrated panel controlling the mp3 player/radio/GPS/aircon/toaster it's pretty much a given that each button[1] will do more than one thing, ergo, you'll still have to remember sequences of presses.

            [1] unless there are 297 of them, in which case the control panel will need to be the size of a pool table.

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              You appear to be assuming that one button = one function. When you have an integrated panel controlling the mp3 player/radio/GPS/aircon/toaster it's pretty much a given that each button[1] will do more than one thing, ergo, you'll still have to remember sequences of presses.

              I personally think it is a horrible idea to switch entirely to a touch screen. A miserable, ruinous idea. Ideally every interface will have some physical buttons, for mode selection and possibly also an up/down control which handles whatever you most need access to; volume for the stereo, temp for the climate control, and so on. Two up/down controls would be ideal for each item, and you could mirror the buttons on the steering wheel. vol/(track/station), temp/fan, etc. Only things which you don't really nee

              • I personally think it is a horrible idea to switch entirely to a touch screen.

                I never said otherwise, in fact I agree 100%.

                Ideally every interface will have some physical buttons, for mode selection and possibly also an up/down control which handles whatever you most need access to

                You'd still need to know which mode or submode or subsubmode you're in - there's so much stuff there'll have to be a hierarchy - and what position/option you're currently at, otherwise you won't know if your inc/dec controller is

      • by Reapy (688651)

        Forget cars... just anything with a button. If you can't feel where a button is on the remote, you have to look at it, plain and simple. Example, I use an ipad as a remote for XBMC. I tried at first an app with buttons, but it was horrible.

        My thumb would slide left/right with repeated presses such that I had to constantly look down and correct where my hand was moving with each press or risk mishitting a button. This also doesn't change the fact that you can't find the button on feel alone. I don't have t

  • Oh FFS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 16Chapel (998683) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @05:00AM (#40230275)
    Started the video in TFA:

    "For years, people believed the world was flat...".

    Stop, close page. Great idea, ridiculous marketing.
    • It's still better then having great marketing for a ridiculous product. Being wise does not only mean to be able to see through good marketing and spot bad products, but also to look past bad marketing to see good products. Are you really willing to ignore a good product cause of bad marketing, I mean even after you discover that product is actually good.
  • by bmo (77928)

    "The only intuitive interface is the nipple."

    And now we can have nipples as the interface.

    --
    BMO

    • Actually if this can be refined further you could actually use it for porn. Imagine feeling the curves of the porn star in the pictures, well you don't have to imagine anymore.
  • Nope, can't think of anything ever going wrong with moving parts.

  • Obviously, this is where this new technology can REALLY be useful . . .

  • I was under the impression that Apple had already filed for a patent on this.

    • by jc42 (318812)

      I was under the impression that Apple had already filed for a patent on this.

      Probably. At least in the US, you no longer have to have a working prototype to register a patent. All you need is an "idea" to get a patent. Then you wait until someone actually figures out how to build it. You sue them for infringement, take over their development, and market it yourself.

      But you need a big legal department and enough spare cash to pay for all the court time. So don't think of doing it as an independent developer; it's a technique only workable in a big organization with lots of mo

  • But only in predetermined locations by the manufacturer.

    Call me when they can make that button travel across the screen with a moving icon.

    Also I really wonder how much added distortion to the visual display this adds. Notice they did not have any shots that would show you that you are looking through and can see all the spots where the buttons are. designed to be.

  • Oh, that's right, this was posted on /. a few years ago: http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/09/04/29/1516231/a-touch-screen-with-morphing-buttons [slashdot.org] Heh, same thing was reported on by the same site as the current FA: http://singularityhub.com/2009/08/20/a-flexible-touch-screen-changes-surface-to-match-display/ [singularityhub.com]
    • by Naso540 (2304414)
      Good pull on that one, however, it sounds like that was different technology using air. I'm sure this will prove out over time and get better. I worry about the durability of this new one.
  • It sounds like a great way to add cost to your smart phone.
  • by shadowrat (1069614) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @08:50AM (#40231645)
    I don't want to wait 2 seconds between each interface change on my phone. 1 second to release the current buttons. 1 second for new buttons to form. I'm sure it's all very glorious and cool the first time you see it. It's probably agonizingly boring every time thereafter.
  • Seems like a perfect way to get people to adopt phones like the iPhone, even though it doesn't have a physical keyboard.
    It's really sad that Apple crashed like they did when they launched it, but you know it's no big wonder when you consider that they entire industry warned them again and again that consumers would never adopt a phone that didn't have tactile feedback from a physical keyboard.

    Ohh wait, the rest of the industry was wrong and Apple succeeded enourmesly and everyone else followed suit. People

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  • I'll be so glad to be able to feel the buttons again when driving... much safer and more covert
  • Hi guys, welcome to 2009, only it's done with air instead of fluid. [gizmag.com]

    Which genius thought liquids built into electronics was a good fucking idea?

  • It's about tactile feedback: look at the "mixing desk" flavor in the animation cycle on their front page...

    I suggested something like this back in 2009 when I saw '10 gui', I thinking: pick up where haptic displays (the ones that braile users use) left off, most especially multi-display situations where one or other display might serve largely as a control device with helpful visual feedback when you need to look at it: http://kfsone.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/touchy-feely-10gui/ [wordpress.com]

    On a phone: you finish typing

  • The Senseg tactile display [engadget.com] uses electrostatics to create the sensation of texture on a touchscreen.
  • With some improvements, I suppose this could be developed into an e-reader for the blind. Braille on the go!
  • Maybe now we can have realistic looking morphing license plates.

    Let those red light cameras, meter maids, and automated license plate readers be damned.
  • Maybe I don't understand something, but why would anybody need such buttons?

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