A very thin keyboard that uses shape-changing polymers to replicate the feel and sound of chunky, clicking buttons could be in laptops and ultrabooks next year. Strategic Polymers Sciences, the San Francisco-based company that developed the keyboard, is working on transparent coatings that would enable this feature in touch screens.
Today’s portable electronics provide rudimentary tactile feedback—many cell phones can vibrate to confirm that the user has pressed a button on a touch screen, for example. These vibrations are produced by a small motor, meaning the entire phone will move rather than just the appropriate spot on the screen where the button is, and there can be a lag in response time.
“It’s amazing how fast software has grown to compensate for problems with touch screens—and sometimes you still text a word that’s the opposite of what you mean,” says Christophe Ramstein, CEO of Strategic Polymers. Haptics researchers hope to improve user interfaces by making the sensations of interacting with virtual buttons more like touching physical objects.