Tactus is a weirdly interesting little company. Well, maybe not that weird. Perhaps eerie is a better choice - at least in terms of its product. What the company's technology does is both a no-brainer and possibly something a great many mobile device users would love to know more about. The company first emerged back in December 2011, when it received $6M in Series A funding in a round led by Thomvest Ventures, and has since been able to fully demonstrate its capabilities. OK, so what is it?
Tactus has developed an ultrathin membrane that sits over the display of any touchscreen device that is also essentially invisible when not in use. But should you abruptly desire the use of actual keyboard buttons beneath your fingertips, the Tactus membrane will suddenly spring into action on demand and magically create a raised and fully operable 3D set of keyboard buttons for you. Suddenly your touchscreen has an actual keyboard on it. The membrane's size is unlimited and can be applied to the smallest mobile touchscreen or even Lenovo's brand new 27 inch table touchscreen PC.
What's more, the membrane doesn’t offer a fixed capability. Any kind of key, any key arrangement and numerous underlying key shapes and sizes can all be configured. Nor is this a haptic touch illusion of any sort. You end up with real tactile keys beneath your fingers where before there were none. When a user is ready to go back to touchscreen use, the keyboard simply disappears. It reminds us of the movie The Usual Suspects and Keyser Soze - "You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. And like that...he is gone." Only the technology is anything but "usual" though it does seem a bit devilish.
Tactus Technology Introduction from Tactus Technology Inc. on Vimeo.
Tactus was at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last week, and certainly had its share of interested passersby. What we would really like to know, however, is whether or not any of those passersby were from Research in Motion (RIM) specifically and more generally if the other mobile device manufacturers were among them as well. We do know that Tactus is working with a variety of manufacturers to get the technology onto devices, but to date nothing is yet real.
There are as yet at least three unanswered questions for us:
How well does the membrane stand up to repeated use? Does is scratch? Does it quickly become dull with repeated use; does it start to show signs of wear quickly or slowly enough that a user can live with it through the usual span of a two year contract period?
Once you get beyond the magic of the membrane, does the membrane affect the quality of the screen? Does it lower brightness, kill color saturation, render the screen much less vibrant and so on. You don't notice these things in the glare of CES bright lights or focus on such issues when your attention is grabbed by the raised keys themselves when you first come across the technology.
How harsh an environment can the membrane deal with? Would overly hot or cold environments or the sorts of environments found in manufacturing and other field service applications negatively affect performance?
And why is RIM going to build yet another keyboard device if Tactus eliminates the need to do so? We hope RIM and Tactus are talking.
The possibilities for enterprise use - especially in the field, would seem a no-brainer as well. Numerous field service applications do not lend themselves to touchscreens 100 percent of the time, and such a membrane would prove quite useful. But only if the membrane is rugged enough to work well in possibly harsh field service environments (as we noted in our third question above).
Finally, it would seem to us that there are all sorts of wearable technology applications possible here. In fact, wearable tech - which is about to explode as a market - may ultimately prove to be the greatest opportunity for Tactus.
It is a company we are certainly going to keep a close eye on.
Edited by Brooke Neuman