Microsoft has filed a patent application on a shape-changing, texture-enabled screen that might eventually lead to mobile touchpads with palpable keyboards for faster texting, or even to Braille-capable tablets for the visually impaired.
Officially known as the “light-induced shape-memory polymer display screen,” the display would respond to ultraviolet light in ways that would change the shape of the screen and provide “tactile feedback” to users.
Theoretically, at least, Microsoft’s proposed technology could make a virtual keyboard on a touchscreen act as well as to look like a real keyboard.
The display would be able change in shape by bringing to the surface various formations of pixel-sized plastic “shape-memory” cells.
“The display device further includes a topography-changing engine configured to project agitation light of an ultraviolet band towards the display screen, where the agitation light is modulated at a pixel level to selectively change topography of the topography-changing layer,” according to the patent abstract.
With this kind of technology in place, users would apparently feel the spaces between the keys on the virtual keyboard. Instead of a sensation of flatness or squishiness, they would get a sense of really clicking down when they typed.
Although Microsoft didn’t say so in its patent filing, the availability of this kind of display could give users yet another reason to ditch PCs in favor of tablets.
Folks accustomed to typing on keyboards would no longer be largely limited in their tablet choices to cumbersome convertible designs. Touch typing, a potentially faster means of communications than thumbing, could see a rebirth in popularity.
Evidently, the topography of Microsoft’s envisioned display could also be changed to resemble Braille pages, allowing visually disabled users to read books and other documents on tablets by touching the dots of Braille.
Yet even if Microsoft’s patent request gets approved, scenarios like this are a long way off, if they ever unfold at all.
Initially, at least, Microsoft plans to use the technology with the Surface, a technologically advanced tabletop-sized tablet, priced between $12,500 and $15,000, which is optimized to respond to 52 touches at a time.