Researchers at Microsoft have come up with a new way of creating tactile feedback for touchscreen displays, hopefully leading to more natural interaction with on-screen menus and an improved virtual keyboard experience.
The technology, as outlined by Microsoft in a patent filing, is initially geared towards larger displays, but a modified version of the technique may be possible for smartphone-sized screens once the company works the kinks out. The kinds of feedback we have on phones now are pretty basic; a device may vibrate slightly to let you know you pressed an onscreen button, but creating any sort of detail or texture is out of the question.
With these new displays, a special plastic layer would go on top of the screen, where it would respond to different wavelengths of ultraviolet light. In this arrangement, you could have menus with borders you could actually feel. Adding ridges for key edges and simulating home row bumps might bring onscreen keyboards to a level where touch-typing becomes possible at a speed approaching that of a real keyboard.
The big benefit Microsoft’s system has over anything else being worked on is that it should be able to generate pixel-accurate bumps, rather than just simulating a texture over a larger portion of the screen. That could open the doors to applications like a display that can show normal text, overlaid with Braille characters for the seeing-impaired.
Sadly, we’ve got no guess as to if or when this will become a workable, commercially viable product, rather than just a really good idea.