As a guy who still kind of winces at the iPhone's touch surface sometimes (especially when playing games -- you don't realize how nice buttons are until you see a character die because your thumb's in the way), this is extremely interesting news: Apple's rumored tablet, which we've been hearing a lot about lately, may include a dynamic, tactile surface.
This one's on a little shakier ground than the other rumors that we've heard before, but it makes sense. After that anonymous exec told the NYT that the interface on the new tablet would be "surprising," AppleInsider notes this recent
pulled out an old patent from a few years ago that talks about a surface that changes its shape and feel based on how it's being used. For viewing pictures with the multitouch, it stays smooth, but the second a keyboard or button pops up, it can push out dots or shapes and become slightly tactile.
[Neil from AI sent a note to update us: "Just wanted to clarify that we didn't "dig up" an old patent -- it was filed for in August of this year, and was made public just today. It is, however, very similar to an application first revealed in 2007."]
Sounds like it'd be tough to get right (you'd have to figure out when users expect a tactile surface and when they don't, among other interesting UI questions), but of course if anyone can pull it off, it'll probably be Apple. Note that this isn't the only futuristic idea Apple has had for larger multitouch surfaces, and there are lots of different options for interfaces that we'd find "surprising." But the fact remains that though touchscreen devices are extremely popular, users want a little more feel and a little less look. It'd be great to see Apple pull this off, if they are planning on showing off a larger touchscreen next month.