Without actual keys, typing on a touchscreen can often be slow and cumbersome - leading to many an embarrassing typo.
To combat this, California-based tech company Tactus has developed technology that transforms a flat tablet or mobile phone screen into a keyboard with buttons, eliminating the need to lug around a plug-in keyboard.
The technology, which the company claims to be the world's first "dynamic tactile touchscreen", allows a keyboard to rise from the screen when needed and disappear when typing is completed.
The screens use what is known as microfluidic technology, where a tactile panel replaces the glass or plastic that usually sits above the touch sensors and display on a touchscreen device.
Small channels in the panel are filled with a transparent fluid, which expands upward into the shape of buttons or keys when the pressure is increased on the fluid, and falls back to a flat screen when pressure is decreased. When engaged, the keys are strong enough for users to type with and rest their fingers on, the company says.
The rise and fall of the keys, which takes less than a second, can be controlled by either a proximity sensor or an app on the device.
A study by Japanese tech giant Sony showed using touch is up to five times faster than relying on vision alone. The technology could also revolutionise the limited nature of tablets and smartphone for blind and vision impaired people around the world.
Aside from tablets and smartphones, the technology could also be applied to game controllers, televisions and cars. Used in touchscreen displays in cars, drivers could return more attention back to the road rather than turning away to look at screens, potentially increasing safety, according to Tactus.
Buttons and keys can be designed in various shapes and configurations, with screen size ranging from that of a small phone to a television set.
The company does not manufacture its own devices, but says it will partner with other smartphone and tablet manufacturers. The technology, which was featured at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, is expected to be in production in late 2013 or early 2014.
- The Age