I’d never want to use a built-in physical keyboard on any device that has a touchscreen display, though some companies insist on coming up with such accessories. But the fact is that using touchscreens can be annoying in some instances where some sort of tactile feedback — like the presence of a button — might be helpful.
One startup figured out a way to manufacture a particular tablet case that creates buttons out of nothing (okay, it’s a liquid). More interesting, a German company is now studying a different kind of touchscreen manufacturing process that would let it add next-gen haptic feedback features to a display. Essentially, Robert Bosch wants to add a “feel” sense to displays that could be used without a person looking.
According to The Economist, Bosch developed a system called neoSense that would add surface textures to a mix of elements that can provide haptic feedback to a user interacting with a touchscreen. Other elements that offer feedback related to screen interaction include visual effects, sounds and vibrations, but Bosch wants to add real buttons to displays.
The neoSense textures on the screen can be “rough, smooth or patterned” in various ways to represent the location of different buttons that have different purposes.
That way, a driver would be able to find a specific button, and by applying variable pressure, he or she would be able to interact with a certain car feature. The system would let the user turn on and off certain functions, but also increase touch pressure to scroll through music or radio stations.
If that type of screen interaction sounds familiar, that’s because Apple already introduced pressure-sensitive touch actions in the iPhone 6s. Called 3D Touch, the technology only offers system-wide shortcuts to certain features but has the potential to help Apple completely redesign the iPhone. In addition to Apple, other tech companies including Google and Samsung are studying ways to improve the way we interact with touchscreen displays.
Even so, you can’t use 3D Touch on the iPhone without looking at the screen, as you’d have no way of knowing where your finger is located to trigger certain actions. At this time, it’s not clear when neoSense technology will be available, what products will use it, and whether the tech will be picked up by smartphone and tablet makers in the future.
The Economist’s entire article is worth a read, as it describes in great detail how touchscreen devices work, complete with differences between resistive and capacitive displays, the materials used to build better touchscreens, and their haptic-and-pressure-sensitive future.