A number of startups and smartphone manufacturers are busy inventing new touchscreens, adding keyboards which give a real sense of touch.

Keasy: Physical Keyboard Making a Comeback on Smartphones?

Simple and functional – the two main attributes that largely explain the success of touchscreens. The tactile interface is certainly easy to understand and use, plus it encourages users to interact closely with the device by pointing at what it is they want. However, when it comes to writing text, many people are unhappy about the loss of the physical keyboard with its sensation of touch, which they are used to on their computers. It is in any case a fact that our fingers struggle to pinpoint the little icons precisely and automated correction is still a long way from being able to eliminate all mishits. While smartphone manufacturers are attempting to get round this drawback, a UK startup has come up with a gadget which makes the physical keyboard reappear on a portable phone. This is one idea among several…

A gadget to restore the keyboard’s sense of touch

The startup’s founder, Oscar Montes de Oca, has designed a smartphone case with an integrated transparent keyboard, hence the name Keasy. When a smartphone user needs to write a text, all s/he has to do is to slip the keyboard out from the back of the case and slide it over the virtual keyboard displayed on the touchscreen. Using the transparent keyboard, a user is able to find and type letters and punctuation marks with precision, and with a real sense of touch. “When you don’t have a physical keyboard you have to think about each key you touch instead of concentrating on the message you’re trying to write,” points out Oscar Montes de Oca. To help the user know where s/he is with the buttons, a small raised ring has been added to the D and J keys. The current keyboard is made for the Samgsung Galaxy SII, but Keasy’s creator hopes to use finance from his recent Kickstarter campaign to widen the range to cover products from Apple, HTC, Nokia et al, and to adapt the keyboard for a number of languages.

Microfluidic and haptic tech for the smartphones of the future

“The touchscreen won’t disappear, but in the future it’ll become suppler and will be made of flexible, miniaturised electronics,” predicts Oscar. Indeed, several firms have already been looking at improving the sense of touch on the actual touchscreen. During this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Californian startup Tactus presented a new type of smartphone, equipped with a hybrid screen, which allows the keys to rise up from and recede back into a tactile user interface, using microfluidics technology. This consists of injecting minute quantities of liquid which results in certain parts of the screen – i.e. where the buttons are – swelling. Apple has also patented a similar procedure which relies on haptic feedback. A small electrical impulse is sent to the user’s fingertips when s/he touches the virtual buttons.