Just when you’d got used to fumbling your way through an email on your lifeless touch screen, Phorm has gone and resurrected the button. Sort of
Enveloping the edges and back of the iPad Mini (or, in the case of its smaller sibling, the iPhone 6 Plus), the Phorm appears to be an underwhelming plastic slab of protection. Slide the large toggle switch on the rear of the case and its true purpose becomes evident: like a potent allergic reaction, a string of bumps appear on the iPad screen, perfectly aligned with its keyboard.
The Phorm aims to give a sense of tactile touch back to smart screens, helping people to touch-type with the same speed as if they were using a physical keyboard.
The tech works thanks to a microfluid stored in the case. When the Phorm is "toggled" on, the fluid is pushed through hairline grooves under a thin layer of screen protecting plastic, pooling in small amounts over the relevant sections of the screen - it's a mechanical process, which means there's no battery to worry about recharging. The little finger guides don't depress as such, but act as markers to rest your fingers against when you're looking for a button, so you can develop a tying muscle memory.
Compatible with a number of major iOS keyboard apps, there are some drawbacks: Phorm only lines up when your device is in a portrait orientation, and some apps might find themselves misaligned. But as a first model, it's an interesting hint at what the future of smart keyboards might look like.
Set to arrive in 2016, Phorm is currently only taking orders in the US. You can find out more here.