File this one under “future toys.” A patent by Microsoft, filed last year and recently made public, describes a system by which a texture or shape could be created by activating micro-tiles built into a display. These tiny things are light-activated, and could conceivably be used to create a physical keyboard built into the display… but more likely would be used to provide simple haptic feedback or at most braille lettering.
The idea of a keyboard growing out of your touchscreen is enchanting, but as weird as it sounds to say it, there’s more of a difference between a virtual keyboard and a physical one than just the keys. There’s a whole different style of typing, mainly based on the fact that physical keys require a certain amount of pressure. If Microsoft could somehow determine pressure, and relax the “topography layer” accordingly, that would be straight up magic.
I mean hey, I’m rooting for them, and this would be an absolutely killer feature, but filing a patent like this usually means they’ve just had the idea, and have heard of the technology. So I wouldn’t expect in next year’s Windows 7 tablets or anything.
The image, by the way, isn’t from the Microsoft patent, which has nine blank pages of pictures (thanks, USPTO), but from a Sony one for another haptic feedback system. Just FYI.