Thursday, January 6, 2011

Will Touchscreens Kill the Keyboard?


>>Thanks to a handful of emerging technologies, virtual touch-screen keyboards are getting closer to the feel of real electromechanical keyboards. Enhancements such as tactile feedback and surfaces that change to mimic physical keys could eventually redefine the virtual keyboard experience for millions of users of devices ranging from smartphones to tablets and touch-screen PCs. Will these improvements be enough for the virtual keyboard to entirely displace the electromechanical keyboard?


Immersion Corp., which has developed a product that uses a mechanical actuator to deliver haptic feedback on a touch screen, says the next generation of haptics will be able to replicate the feel of key travel as well as the keyboard click of a mechanical keyboard. "You don't get the actual travel of your finger, but you can get much more of it back," says Dennis Sheehan, Immersion's vice president of marketing.


Immersion is working on an innovation that could help. The company is collaborating with partners to develop "deformable surfaces" that would allow certain areas of the touch screen to rise up, creating key positions you can feel.

"When electric fields are applied to them, they deform -- raise up or sink down. Those surfaces would be on top of the touch-screen display," says Sheehan, so this could help users position their fingers by feel. But don't expect products anytime soon: Sheehan describes the work as part of the company's "long-range vision."

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