This iPhone 5 rumor, as with so many, is based on the deep belief that every Cool Technology flows toward Apple as water flows downhill. It's a variant of the belief that every patent awarded to Apple reveals something that will appear in the very next iDevice, even if it's just weeks away from an expected launch. See also iPhone 5 release date, specs and rumour round up.
A variety of news outlets picked up on a new tactile touch-screen technology unveiled this week at the SID Display Week trade show by a Fremont, Calif.-based startup, Tactus Technology. Using something called "microfluidics," Tactus replaces the conventional top layer of a touch screen with a flexible membrane. Tiny amounts of special oil are pumped through tiny channels in the membrane, "inflating" the keys and buttons of, for example, a qwerty keyboard. You actually have "real" keys to press. When you're done, the oil drains away and the membrane, in theory, flattens out and disappears, to become a flat touch screen again. Visit New iPhone 5 to have flexible display.
It all sounds impossibly complex, but The Verge's Nathan Ingraham was favorably impressed, talking with Tactus CEO and co-founder Craig Ciesla and actually handling a prototype, single image based on an Android smartphone. Go to iPhone 5 will "launch" in September.
In his post, Ingram says the channels are "invisible, for the most part." He also writes about the actual experience of touching the screen: "The key outlines did provide some feedback as to where individual keys start and end, but the physical act of 'pressing' a key didn't provide much feedback yet. Much of the time, it felt as though the capacitive touchscreen was triggered before you had a chance to feel the travel of the fluid-filled area. ... Still, once you notice the outlines of where the keys appear and disappear, they're hard to un-see (though we expect future versions will more naturally integrate the microfluid channels)."
Those qualifications alone, given Apple's obsession with industrial design and UI details, never mind Tactus' clear statement that first products won't be available until mid-2013, make it clear you can forget about this innovation appearing this year on the iPhone 5.
But this is the iOSphere, which rarely lets facts get in the way of enthusiasm.
Dave Smith, writing for International Business Times, covered the Tactus news, and then linked it to another recent patent disclosure covered in early May by Patently Apple, for a "flexible OLED display." Without going into the almost numbingly detailed speculation by Patently Apple, the patent seems to have some type of flexible surface, but uses stacked layers of "piezoelectric elements" to create the physical buttons or keys.
Smith says the patent reveals a "similar technology" to that of Tactus and makes the intuitive leap of faith that lies at the heart of iOSphere rumors: "A similar technology dealing with advanced haptics and feedback is reportedly being built for Apple's sixth-generation smartphone, presumably called the 'iPhone 5.'"
But if even it isn't in iPhone 5, "it's likely that a future iPhone will feature Tactus Technology's dynamic touchscreens," Smith declares. "Feeling buttons or controls on a smartphone would be extremely useful for completing tasks that typically require a keyboard. ... It's an incredible and exciting technology. ... But if this really is a hot technology, there's a great chance Apple will rush to get its recently-granted patent into its next iPhone, which is expected to arrive in September or October."
The conclusion: this incredibly exciting and hot technology may or may not be in this year's iPhone 5.