The Future at your Fingertips

Hands up how many of you have glanced at your tablet and frowned at the state of its screen, or looked at its flimsy detachable keypad and noticed how worn out some of the keys or touchpad has become, despite having only bought your device a few months ago?

Keeping electronic surface interfaces in a clean and workable condition, represents both a frustration for the 21st century human and an interesting challenge for those product designers who take a more intimate interest in haptic surface materials, a market which is estimated to be worth close to $30bn by 2020.

Interfacing materials and haptic technologies are beginning to make huge strides into our everyday lives. Airbus pilots for example, are already using it in the cockpit area and soon your car steering wheel may incorporate a system to alert you of when to take the next turn.  In even more out of the box scenarios, work is being carried out by a well-known global corporation to emulate a real keyboard experience using a touchscreen display, while another industry leader is planning to launch a system to replicate textures - you could soon experience the feel of your favourite fabric on a smartphone, or similar electronic device.

All this new technology requires our fingers to interact with our phones, computers, gaming machines and the world around us on an increasing basis. This raises the issue of how to strike the right balance between materials offering resistance to abrasion, oils and chemicals (like nail varnish remover, for example!), while providing a desirable and enhanced sensory feedback to the user.

Our hands, however clean we think they are, will often have traces of grease, oil and dirt, meaning the continual sliding and tapping, which we all do so frequently, brings a dramatic abrasive element to all manner of gadgets which we expect will keep their well-engineered textures for the duration of their useful life.  In most cases it is the surface overlay film component that bears the brunt of this assault.

Film longevity coupled with choice of textured surfaces is something we have spent a lot of time thinking about at MacDermid Autotype and we’ve come up with a number of quite clever solutions, like our Autotex and Autoflex range of printable hardcoated polyester and polycarbonate overlay films. The durable films deliver a variety of haptic sensations and experiences through the tactile cues on the films surface with textures ranging from soft silky and skin-like to cool smooth stainless steel effects. We designed them for membrane touch switch overlay applications, touch screens, and touch sensor components, or for smart cards, fascia panels, industrial nameplates and labels, in order to provide a combination of pleasant user experience and exceptional wear and tear resistance.

We think, interfacing film durability is just one example of how many industries in the manufacturing sector are facing up to one of the challenges of our age: Devices using embedded electronics that are frequently getting handled that have to put up with exposure to many environmental conditions and also need to be pleasant to the touch.  Getting that balance between a hard film and a pleasant sensory feedback is crucial and we believe using a premium hardcoated film will provide the best experience.

Now, I have to get back to cleaning my tablet’s screen.