What if your iPad grew a keyboard?
That is the pitch from iPad-case company Tactus who released Phorm, a morphing touch-screen iPad case for iPad Mini.
When you want keys, the case’s keys rise to your fingertips. When you want to swipe, they recede into the case. For anyone whose fingers have slipped to the wrong keys on a touch screen keypad one too many times, this provides a welcome innovation. But it has bigger implications for schools, where flat screens aren't as conducive to learning.
Here’s how it works. Once you put your iPad Mini into the Phorm, you’ll notice a sliding panel button on the back of the case. When you need to type something out, slide the button and 3-D nubs will rise from the surface of the iPad (well the iPad screen case that is). These act like little guiding buttons for fingers. Each nub is small, but easy enough to hit so that typing can be more direct and feel similar to an experience you would have on a physical keyboard.
Want to go back to touch screen only? Simply slide the button back and the keys will disappear. Though keep in mind this feature is only available when the device is in portrait mode.
The device can solve the annoyance of slipping fingers and difficult-to-pinpoint keys, but researchers have also pointed out it could offer a solution to e-learning. When you work on a touch screen you are forced to remember the location of something only by sight — when you see where the “a” key is, you have to sync up your fingers to remember where that key is on a flat, unmappable surface. Adding a physical dimension makes mapping those keys easier, allowing someone to spend less mental energy thinking about where a key is and more time thinking about what they are actually typing. If tablets grow as an ed-tech tool (school districts as large as Los Angeles Public Schools have tested the device in classrooms), adding a morphing keypad could prove crucial to better learning through tech.
A likely deterrent to the popularity of this device, however, will probably be price. The Phorm will cost $149, far above the average tablet case, though there will be a special introductory offer at $99 when it is first released. The case is also only available for the iPad Mini currently, though the founders mentioned to several media outlets they hope to expand to more devices in the future.
For now, if you have an iPad Mini and you just can’t seem to get the hang of typing on flat keys — your solution has arrived.