Why touchscreens are only just getting started
Tucked away in the depths of the Venetian Hotel is the CES Eureka Park – a collection of tech start-ups, entrepreneurs and small companies plying their wares. A far cry from the glossy, outsized spaces rented out by the tech giants in the Convention Center, it's nevertheless a great place to see where tech is going to take us next.
In touch with the future
New ways of interacting with our devices seems to be the name of the game – like the Tactus tablet showcased at Eureka Park, which can conjure up a layer of bubbles overlaid on a touchscreen keyboard, for a more tactile typing experience.
Your flexible friend
Tactus isn't the only innovative interface coming up, though – take the PaperTab, a flexible e-ink paper tablet that lets you navigate through documents and web pages by bending the display.
"The question is, how do you get more depth of meaning from the interfaces?" asks Peter Firth of trend forecasting network LS:N Global. "Sure, you've got a tablet which you can swipe on, but manufacturers are adding depth, pressure and flexibility – in terms of interfaces, that's the direction things are moving in. With bendable tablets, you can navigate without even looking."
Chinese company Shenzen New Degree Technology brought its pressure-sensitive touch panels to CES – they combine capacitive and resistive input to track the force that you're using when you touch the screen.
Interestingly, RIM has filed a patent ahead of the launch of the BlackBerry 10 OS that uses similar technology to create a "pressure-sensitive password" – where you unlock your phone not just by pressing numbers, but by applying a certain degree of force when pressing. Ne'er do wells may be able to see what numbers you're touching, but not how hard you're pressing.
Pressure-sensitive touch has applications outside of security, too – imagine how much the tech would improve apps like GarageBand. "More tactile touch is the key," explains Firth. "That kind of thing by its very nature is more intuitive."
Air to the throne?
The most out-there interface shown off at CES, though, is the touchscreen that isn't a screen. The Displair projects images onto a screen made of mist, letting you swipe and swoosh through the surface. And it can sense varying depth of touch, too.
While we can't expect to see screens made of mist in our smartphones any time soon, user interfaces are only going to become more complex and intuitive in the future.
The swipes, taps and pinching gestures we use now may well be museum pieces before too long – as Royal College of Art student Gabriele Meldaikyte's Multi-Touch Gestures project illustrates. It uses low-tech objects to replicate the feel of current gestural interfaces – and preserve them for a post-touchscreen future. So, get ready to learn a whole new set of gestures for your touchscreen devices – the best is yet to come.