Smartphone notifications can be annoying, but if cutting-edge research into flat panel haptics is adopted for commercial use by mobile device manufacturers, they might become even more so. This technology might physically enlarge portions of a smartphone’s screen so that the update icon sticks out or pulses until the user presses it. However, there are also potential accessibility advantages to this technology, such as giving those with visual impairments physical cues to help them recognize important on-screen information. At Carnegie Mellon University, the Future Interfaces Group has created “embedded electroosmotic pumps for scalable shape displays” that can be concealed behind an OLED display.
The researchers speculate that this technology might enable dynamic user interfaces on other kinds of gadgets, like music players, and might even make it possible for touchscreen smartphones to once again have a physical keyboard. RIM, the maker of the BlackBerry, made a similar attempt in 2008 with the BlackBerry Storm, but the technology was not yet developed enough to be useful in a typing context. However, the researchers’ electroosmotic pumps can be individually controlled and as small as 2mm in diameter, which implies that a flexible touchscreen combined with an array of these pumps may be more dynamic and adaptable than was previously possible.