February 13, 2015
Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Typing on a smartphone or tablet screen can be incredibly convenient on the go, but the whole experience lacks the physical feedback of a traditional computer or laptop keyboard. Fortunately, a company called Tactus Technology has a very imaginative and intriguing solution for this problem.
Their product is a combination plastic case and screen protector for the iPad Mini known as the Phorm, and according to VentureBeat, it features a slider on the rear of the case that causes a physical keyboard to pop up out of the screen when activated.
This feature allows you to hold the device with both hands, as you normally would when typing, and lets you activate the keyboard without having to alter your grip. Tactus told the website that usability is one of its primary goals, and that the company believed that physical keyboards boost productivity and usability.
People prefer using them to type, explained Dr. Craig Ciesla, co-founder and chief executive of Tactus in an interview with VentureBeat. The firm claims that it found a “75 percent preference” for using the Phorm while typing versus typing on a traditional touchscreen.
According to Wired, the Phorm is Tactus’s first consumer product, and its shape-shifting buttons use a technology known as microfluidics in order to function. Specifically, it involves a transparent panel carved with extremely tiny grooves that sit atop the device’s display. Once it is activated, a slight pressure change sends small amounts of fluid through the grooves, allowing a pre-determined pattern of small bubble-like buttons to rise up out of the screen’s surface.
The case itself was designed by Ammunition Group, the same company behind Beats by Dre. The device will cost $149 when it is released this summer, but Tactus said it will knock $50 off the price if you preorder one. Phorm is currently available only for the iPad Mini, and the company said it is working to integrate the technology into actual tablets.
Review impressions have been lukewarm so far. Wired’s Kyle VanHermert tried the Phorm and said making the buttons appear and disappear was “very cool”, but using them to type was a “less magical” experience.
Likewise, Nathan Ingraham of The Verge tried the technology and called it “unusual and interesting” and thought it was “a cool idea”, but in its current form it’s “not quite ready for prime time.” Both reviewers used prototype models- there is still time for Tactus to improve their product for release.