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First Look: Disappearing Tactile Keyboard on Glass

Tactus Technology's keyboard appears and disappears on command.

Now you see it, now you don’t.

Thanks to something called microfluidic technology, the Tactus Tactile Layer feels like a magic trick. But there’s no sleight of hand here: When you reach out to touch this tactile keyboard on a glass surface where it didn’t appear a second earlier, it actually works.

I know this because I just tried typing on it in a back corner of the Las Vegas Convention Center at CES.

Here’s a quick video demonstration.

Tactus Technology has what most people who type on glass yearn to use: A keyboard that their fingertips can actually feel. I’m not talking about faux tactile keys, like a glass surface that delivers haptic feedback and vibrates when you touch it. Nor am I talking about a geeky attachment that snaps onto your device. These are raised keys that, when prompted, come up out of the glass surface, like bubbles. They stay there until you’re done typing, at which point you can hide the keyboard again and go back to using your full-size, glass touchscreen.

As any current or former BlackBerry user will tell you, tactile keys mean faster, more accurate typing. The Tactile Layer seems like the best of both worlds, though it has a few rough edges in its current iteration.

Craig Ciesla, CEO and founder of Tactus Technology, showed me two versions of the Tactile Layer. One was built into a small, thick tablet running Android, and the keyboard appeared via a software prompt. The other worked on an iPad mini with a special frame built around it. When a lever on the frame was moved down, the keyboard appeared. Both the software-prompted tablet and the framed iPad mini use Tactus’ tech, which sends fluid into small bubbles representing each key.

I had more accurate results typing on the iPad mini than on the Android tablet, where my thumbs seemed error-prone. Ciesla says both versions of the keyboard will improve.

According to Ciesla, smartphones and tablets — and later on, laptops — will have the built-in version of this technology, like the first demonstration I saw. The frame version of the Tactile Layer will be available for use with Apple’s iPad mini and iPhone 5s; Google’s Nexus 7, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and Galaxy S4 are also likely to follow. Availability is expected by the middle of this year (think late spring) and Ciesla wouldn’t share pricing details.

Get those thumbs ready again. The Tactile Layer just might be a winner.

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