A Touchscreen Keyboard That Goes Invisible

0 | By Michael A. Robinson

Now here’s a cutting-edge way to solve a daily frustration for hundreds of millions of people around the world…

As you’ve probably noticed, most cell phones today come equipped with the ability to send text messages using touch screens. In fact, it’s getting harder and harder to find a smart phone that actually lets you use “old school” keyboard buttons to tap out your messages.

The industry’s move to touchscreens allowed smart phones and lots of other products to become smaller and lighter. That’s important. By ditching the keys, device makers greatly reduced the number of moving parts that can break, too. That’s a very good thing, because our mobile phones get a pretty heavy workout every single day…

Research firm Gartner Inc. estimates that there are more than 1.6 billion mobile devices in the world today. Texting remains one of the top uses of these devices. In fact, industry experts peg total message volume for all carriers at five billion per day. And it’s one of the top sources of income for wireless carriers. London-based market research firm Ovum estimates carriers worldwide took in about $153 billion during 2011 from text messaging.

But there’s a big problem with all this typing.

Because touch screens lack any way to give you true physical feedback on your typing, they seem ready-made for mix-ups and mistakes. I have a feeling that even the most careful among you have made a typo yourself; but if not, don’t take my word for it. You can go to websites that show all kinds of crazy – and sometimes hilarious – text messages that people send by accident. (You can check out my favorite, which details bad texts from parents, by going here.)

That’s why I’m so excited about this California startup…

Dynamic Buttons… Because “Why Settle for Flat?”

Fremont, Ca.-based Tactus Technology has invented what amounts to a physical keyboard… that’s invisible.

No, that’s not a typo.

The keyboard hides inside the phone (or other device). When it’s needed, the keyboard pops up so you can write your text (or enter your search query). When the user is done typing, the keyboard then drops back down inside, leaving no trace of its presence.

All of this occurs without changing the phone’s overall size. Ditto for the device’s thickness.

Seems impossible, right?

Tactus uses tiny drops of oil that form into physical buttons. They pop out from the touchscreen to give users the sense of typing on a real keyboard (and the ability to physically confirm that a button has been pressed). When no longer needed, the oil “buttons” recede back into the touchscreen.

These dynamic buttons can be customized by size, shape, layout, and location.

The company’s Tactile Layer™ is a flat and transparent panel that integrates with any touchscreen device. It adds no thickness to a standard touchscreen, because it simply replaces a layer that already resides inside a device’s existing display stack. The firm says its products will allow device makers to create new ergonomics, because the screen and the keyboard can now be combined.

Of course, this cutting-edge high tech is not simply limited to smart phones. It will work on any number of touch screens that you would find in a tablet computer, gaming consoles, GPS navigators, medical devices, and TV remotes. Even your microwave or coffee pot, for that matter.

And Tactus has its very own secret sauce.

The company won’t say what type of oil they use for the keys, except to call it “proprietary.” The firm also points out that the oil has no color or odor and is non-toxic.

This is the kind of breakthrough that defines the Era of Radical Change we talk so much about. Just a few years ago, invisible objects remained a sci-fi dream. Today, they are becoming real – Tactus says it will have a product out by late next year.

It’s already getting a lot of buzz. The firm showed off its Tactile Layer component at a trade show. It all went down at the Society for Information Display’s annual display meeting in Boston last week.

Since then, the tech trade press has showered Tactus Technology with praise.

This is the kind of high-profile early positive feedback we like to see as investors. It means the firm has a great product that dazzles veteran writers, who are often cynics. Not only that, all this ink helps burnish the brand and keep any potential competitors at bay.

In this case, that could add up to better stock offering when Tactus is ready to go public.

To date, the firm hasn’t said it will issue shares. However, Tactus is clearly on the right track to do so. It recently raised $6 million in venture funding. With all the buzz about this new gadget, I believe Tactus will have little problem raising more money to keep the company growing. What’s more, there’s no doubt Tactus will be launching into a huge potential market.

And the firm has already achieved another milestone. Tactus has reached an agreement to partner with industry leader Touch Revolution, which makes the touch screen components device makers put into their products. This could be huge.

I’m interested to hear what you think of Tactus’ developments. Is this the kind of product you would use yourself? Do you see the same great investment potential I do? Email me at

I’ll be in “touch” again on Friday.


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