Microsoft Patents Shape-Shift Touchscreen to Solve Slippery Finger Woes

Tricky-to-type touchscreens may become a thing of the past if Microsoft gets its way. The software giant has patented a dynamic form-shifting touchscreen that will help fingers feel the screen’s feedback.



Slippery, tricky-to-type touchscreens may become a thing of the past if Microsoft gets its way. The software giant patented a dynamic form-shifting touchscreen that will help your fingers “feel” the screen’s feedback.

Microsoft has a longer history of touchscreen technology than Apple. Microsoft Surface pre-dated the iPhone, but its limited availability and high price meant that few of us have even heard of it. Apple is the company people tend to think of when talking about the current rage for touchscreen tech.

But Microsoft has just patented a new approach to tactile feedback from touchscreens that sounds so clever, and device-transforming, that we wish it were available right now. The idea is that multiple, reactive layered coatings on the screen can morph into different shapes while remaining transparent–giving your fingertips a tactile cue.

This notion isn’t new. Some existing phones perform a very limited form of haptic feedback when you dab at the screen by buzzing their vibrators gently. But Microsoft’s patent is way more advanced. It proposes using layers of shape-memory plastic coating on the screen’s surface. These materials contort from their “resting” state when given an impetus (essentially, they “remember” the state they’re supposed to be in.)

The plastic reacts to small doses of ultra-violet light. The light creates or removes small bumps on the surface of the screen. If you crafted a fine array of tiny UV LEDs into the touscreen itself, you could even create fine textures on the screen–something as sophisticated as the texture of leather may be possible (and a UV absorbing final layer would preserve users from being exposed to the light).

Microsoft’s patent specifically implies the technology would be used in its Surface device–or future systems much like it. But the tech could easily be adapted to smaller screen devices like touchscreen smartphones. Imagine if, when your future smartphone or tablet PC pops-up an on screen keyboard each of the keys has a tiny edge that you can feel with your fingers. Touchscreen typing woes would quickly become a thing of the past.


All Microsoft has to do now is make Windows 7 touchscreen-friendly.

To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.