“Feelable” touchscreens revisited

Tactus have gotten quite a lot of attention recently after demonstrating their new touchscreen technology (pictured above; image source). Their “Tactile Layer” technology raises bubbles on the touchscreen, creating, essentially, physical objects on the touchscreen. I suppose I’ve taken quite an interest in this since it’s similar to something I wrote about 6 months ago: feelable touchscreens.

Here are two amazing and innovative technologies, each taking a different approach towards creating tactile sensations from a touchscreen. Senseg use small electric currents to stimulate the skin, creating edges and feelings of texture, while Tactus actually create something physical.

To the best of my understanding, Tactus’ technology allows bubbles (I’m reluctant to call them buttons; who knows what else interaction designers could do with this!) in pre-determined locations, configured during manufacture. Different configurations are possible, apparently, but from what I’ve read it seems that these are decided at manufacture. Whilst this allows some fundamental improvements to the touchscreen experience (e.g. providing a configuration for a keyboard), it lacks some flexibility as manufacture determines where bubbles can be used.

Senseg’s tech, however, is more flexible and appears to be truly dynamic; application developers can control the precise location where feelings can be experienced rather than this being decided during manufacture.

Having dabbled with Microsoft Surface over the past year I’m pleased to see that both of these technologies apparently scale well to larger displays. Interactive tabletops suffer from the same loss of tactile feedback that touchscreen mobile devices do although this is perhaps less apparent on a large scale device where widgets aren’t crammed into such a small space.

I don’t think it’s fair to ask which of these technologies is better, because they can’t fairly be compared. Although the flexibility of Senseg vs the physical tactility of Tactus is an interesting comparison, I feel that a better question is could these concepts be somehow combined? Imagine a touchscreen which offers complete configuration flexibility, a richer tactile experience like Senseg claim to offer (e.g. feeling texture, not just the presence of something) and the benefits of feeling something physical on the touchscreen. Now that would be awesome.