Full touchscreen typing with "physical" buttons is not just a dream anymore

By Kevin Michaluk on 6 Jun 2012 05:22 pm EDT

I sort of wish I could go to sleep for two years and wake up to be able to grab my BlackBerry 12 phone with curved display and physical buttons that emerge out of the glass while typing.

Sort of a crazy week for awesome new technologies that I can't wait to see be put to use in consumer tech. Yesterday we spoke about Corning's new Willow Glass technology which allows for curved displays. The glass is thin, strong and flexible and can literally bend around corners.

Today I caught wind of the news in the CrackBerry Forums pointing out a new technology from a company called Tactus which allows for "physical" buttons to emerge out of a display. It's literally deformable tactile surface.

"The origin of Tactus goes back to 2007. Looking at the iPhone and all the elegance of that user interface, I also realized that I like my BlackBerry with the buttons ... . As human beings, we really want to be able to feel things; we really want that tactility." 

Tactus' Tactile Laye technology integrates with touchscreen-based devices (smart phones, tablets, personal navigation systems, gaming devices, etc.) by replacing the front layer of the display stack. Awesome stuff. Be sure to check out the video above and jump over to Tactus' site for more details. I know how much BlackBerry users love their physical keyboards, myself included. I'm loving the look of the BlackBerry 10 keyboard, but have to admit a technology like this that merges the best of both worlds together -- big touchscreens and physical keyboards -- would be pretty dop. And yes I get that the BlackBerry Torch 9810 technically does this, but you know what I'm saying... all on a touchscreen.

Just when you think maybe technology has peaked and is starting to flat line... nope, you get cool stuff like this to dream about.

Reader comments

Full touchscreen typing with "physical" buttons is not just a dream anymore


While initially I had the same thought, and the technology is definitely cool, there are many problems integrating this into a phone type device.

I think Tactus can be great for many other applications, just not mobile phones. I will explain why, as there are numerous reasons:

1. Landscape vs. Portrait mode

The overlay skin with the patterned bubbles is fixed. Therefore it has to be designed for one orientation or another. Unless they figure out a way to have 2 layers independently inflated, depending on the orientation of the device.

2. Protector sheets

It would not be possible to place a screen protector over the phone. The sheets would interfere with inflation of the bladder buttons. There is also the risk of popping these things, while perhaps slight, the cost to replace may be hugely expensive.

3. Battery consumption

Inflating the bladder and sucking out the air again may use additional power. Not sure what is involved, but we would need a pump that has to run to do this task, with extra power requirements which may be sufficiently high to make an impact on performance.

4. Tactile Feel issues

The bladders will "raise" the surface up above each touchscreen-button, so it helps you center your finger over them. However, the bladder is not a button itself. You still have to depress the entire bubble and touch the touchscreen underneath it to type the letter. Also, if you remember the old "membrane" keyboards from years gone by.... Not a huge fan. I still like that "click" and I assume many would as well.

5. Screen clarity

Even though it looks pretty flat, there are still issues with seeing the bladder button outlines and with higher resolution displays and people being picky about clarity of the screen, this may not be worth it. Also, over time the bladder button plastic can stretch and remain stretchy and therefore start to WRINKLE over the surface, causing it to be even more noticeable.

Anyways, these are just a few thoughts on why it may need some time to perfect for mobile. I think it's great for other devices, but for now it seems still not what people are going to be looking for in a phone.

RIM, I'd say learn about it... but pass. There are better technologies and future of input that needs to be researched.

I was thinking the same. RIM should buy this company! The CEO in the video even says that he wants to make touchscreens with the Blackberry typing experience. That is exactly what RIM is doing!

The user experience paradigm is changing. This is not something I want on a BB10. I think that Research in Motion is more competent than any other company in making the best mobile keyboards in the world. I am sure they have things in their R & D that they will not share with us just yet.

tony123ny - ridiculous. purchase that company for what reason exactly?

Ridiculous? Harsh.

Purchasing the company would give RIM exclusive control over the (very tangible and marketable) tech.

Maybe a bit more than they can afford right now (I don't know how much a company like this would cost), but certainly not a ridiculous idea.


I agree, RIM does have to purchase and control new emerging tech like all the rest of the BIG companies. this would be great for tablets and phones alike. no more accidental hits.

Exactly my point. The possible use implementation for this type of tech is almost limitless. The ability for a flat surface to change and shift shape will he highly sought out by way more company's than just the smartphone, tablet and pc market. One in particular that I can think of is braille. This type of tech could vastly advance that field. The potential of this is far beyond just magically buttons that appear and disappear.

I dont think they should buy it but at least signe an exclusive deal that if the technology actually works RIM gets the sole exclusivity for smartphones, tablets, computers, automotive infotainments.

RIM better buy this company before its competitor buys it...

(Hint: What brand was demo'ed in the video? What company bought out Liquid Metal technology? What company bought the Siri technology?)

This company is not worth much. Based on their News section they recently closed a deal for $6M in series A funding. Assuming that the venture fund took a 20% position (which is usually the minimum venture funds ask for), the company is worth somewhere between 30 to 40 Million $.

You are right! It is what Surepress should have been! I can truly say that because I am still loving and rocking my Storm2 'til BlackBerry10 hits! YEAH!

I loved SurePress on my Storm2.
When we were waiting for the Storm3, there were rumours of a "different" SurePress in the works. I wonder if it was something like this?

I think they should have stuck with SurePress and evolved it. It was one of the biggest things that set the Storm apart from the competition.

I know there were other issues with the Storm series, but imagine a QNX device with SurePress. A device like that could easily rip a hole in the space/time continuum!

The Storm failed to attract consumers not because of SurePress but because:

* The device was starving for more RAM
* The device was underpowered with no graphics acceleration
* OS 4.7 was crap and OS 5.0 still had deficiencies that were never addressed

While the world was begging for a touchscreen BlackBerry, RIM chose to ignore that market without any other effort. Indeed, while most were begging for a Storm 3, it never arrived. Two years after the Storm 2, RIM admitted failure by ditching the wonderful and bold "Storm" name for "Torch" with the 9850/60 last fall. They also shelved SurePress..

SurePress was special. It distinguished between scrolling and selecting. Although I like my 9860, I often launch apps I don't intend to or go to links I don't intend to, just holstering my phone. I've had to learn to use the keyboard lock everytime I use my phone to avoid chaos. This is not a BlackBerry issue; other touchscreen devices have the same problem.

I'm not impressed by this from the video, but it would be a neat thing. Not really a feature that I would buy a piece of electronic for. It is a neat idea though and i can see it being used in things other than phones and keyboards.

yeah this and the curved screens are amazing! i know RIM will give us a great phone but at the same time they need to be the first at something! like this! don't just wait for someone else to see how it goes get it out there! take that design that was made with the curved glass and make it a reality! and they already have a gorgeous mockup!

I guess if this is true.... would BB model the "physical/touch" keyboard after the curve KB or the bold KB? I know both keyboards have a huge fan base (In know a couple people who had the 9700 and traded it for a Curve because they preferred that style keyboard)

Acquiring these types of companies is "research in motion".


Plus get that Gorilla Willow Corning glass!

Worst idea and technology ever! Could be another Blackberry Storm in the works! Did RIM learn from their past failures? Lets see.

"Worst idea ever".

Worse than ethnic cleansing? Communism? Inbreeding? Those all still working out pretty well?

Seriously, this is a very cool idea. You get you full touchscreen, but also keys that you can see, touch and click when you do need them, and not when you don't.

Yes, simply awful... :rolleyes:

And your problem with the Storm is...?

Break it down and you will see that consumers really wanted the Storm series to succeed, but RIM only had a so-so commitment to it. Even the 9850/60 got the same so-so commitment from RIM.

Yes, I am still upset about all this "flagship" talk regarding the 9900/30. Somehow the 9860 was made inferior. Why? No NFC, 1/2 the flash RAM of the 9900. Why not create the best keyboard device and the best touchscreen? It is no wonder RIM's touchscreens have been seen as inferior to Apple and Android offerings. RIM essentially opened the door to the competition retreating to selling keyboard based devices only. How long did the Curve 9390 last in North America? You cannot even buy a 9860 through any major carrier.

RIM has finally realized their mistake, but is it too late now? BB10 is only touchscreen (for now) because they now realize they need to have a strong touchscreen device that can go head to head with the Galaxy Service series and the iPhone.

I'm not against keyboard devices, but RIM must be 100% committed to every device they build, and they must make it the best it can be.

Okay, a bit of topic but I totally agree. I think for BB10, RIM needs to make three maybe four phones MAX. They have too many. Make one full touch screen, one classic style (ie Bold), a slider and maybe a flip. Spec them all out with the same processors and RAM, and where possible all with the same screen resolution or at the least the same aspect ratio. That would dramatically help developers who know what they will have at their disposal regardless of form factor. Each phone should be maxed out - all have NFC, all have lots of RAM etc....

That being said, I know the curve models are really popular in some areas that are less "wealthy". Perhaps then one lower spec model to reduce costs - but only one and keep it consistant.

I have had hopes some developer would write an app for a virtual phone touchscreen keypad for my Bold 9930. Would make entering numbers easier a great deal of the time. I would think it should be an easy app to write, but then I am not a developer.

Saw this yesterday and I gotta say I'm not sold. What does its condition look like after a year of heavy use?

That's just one of the questions I have. I'll need to see and know more before I get all geeked out over it.

Nothing more annoying than being told you don't have flash player on my OS7 phone to play the above video coming from this Crack-Berry site. Thanks for reminding me. Where is 10.

IIrc apple has a patent for this and there were early rumors that the next iPhone/iPad would feature something like this. Would be cool to see on any phone though

I believe it isn't Apple: I think it is HTC applied for it. But they did not disclose a method, and you cannot patent an idea without a method. This is the whole purpose of a patent - it gives you in effect the ownership of a particular way of doing something. There is no merit in the idea of buttons that emerge from a flat surface - there is probably at least one pulp science fiction story that describes such a thing, just as with tablets - but if someone has cracked how to do such a difficult thing, that is (deservedly) patentable.

Sure there are a lot of potential issues - durability mentioned above is a big one - but it would be cool. It seems like it would need a higher "resolution" so that it could have better defined edges on the keys. But being able to dynamically define the surface is just cool. What about a braille reader for the blind?

i don't know. from what i can see, it works well with big buttons but the technology isn't there yet for a 9900 style keyboard to immerge out of glass. though i guess if that bb10 dev device would have it, i don't think id complain cause after rocking the iphone 4 for a week, i discovered it's actually not that difficult to type on a proper touchscreen keyboard. though i did miss the trackpad. immensely. especially when it came to correcting misspelled words. nothing like a bb for that. :)

Saw this 3 days ago, thought it would be weird pressing gel like pads because thats what it would be if it works by filling up with liquid, its either soft qwerty or physical, in between is kind of odd!

Rim needs to buy this company quick! Then Apple can buy Rim and get Tactus, TAT, and all of Rim's patents at a discount.

eh..... I wanna use one before I give an opinion on whether or not it's comparable to a physical RIM keyboard.

Need- and senseless feature... Nothing compares with a real physical keyboard of RIM (means the current Bold99xx)... A touchscreen will stay a touchscreen- in spite of artifical skin rash or oversized goosebumbs... It associated more the bubbles of a blisters-foil I want to crack...:-D

Assuming the durability and operational characters are good, I do like the concept. My only point is that the touch-screen keyboards seem to leave little space to see the text of what I am entering. On this point, at this juncture, I believe I still prefer a physical keyboard like my BlackBerry 9930 or a full-size touchscreen + slider combination. That said, this technology could still be implemented on devices with physical keyboards to gain the best of both.