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New iPad Case Bubbles Up Keys for Better Typing

Want tactile keys for your iPad but don't want to lug a keyboard case around? A new iPad case could offer a neat solution that's sure to wow your friends. Phorm makes small bubbles rise on your screen over individual keys with the pull of a slider, and is available in black or white for a pre-order price of $99 (retail $149).  I had a chance to try out the Phorm for ourselves and was impressed by the technology.

Available only for iPad minis right now, the Phorm is a case, keyboard and screen protector in one. It adds a plastic layer to your tablet's display, and it's this layer that does the magic. When you slide the switch on the back, the bubbles rise slowly on the front, with one appearing over each letter on the keyboard. When you're done typing, just push the switch back in the other direction, and the bumps go away.

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The bubbles, or "optically-clear buttons," according to Tactus, are activated by microfluidic technology. These are small fluid channels, under a tactile layer the case adds to the screen, that move around and expand when needed.

During my time with the Phorm, I loved how seamlessly the buttons rose from the screen. It felt a little like bubble wrap that you can't pop. When the bubbles were gone, I could interact easily with the display -- the Phorm's extra layer felt like it wasn't even there.

Typing with the bumps raised was somewhat strange, however. In my short 15 minutes with the case, I didn't feel that they helped me type better, but, over time, I can see how it can aid my typing when I'm not looking at the screen.

The Phorm only supports keyboards in portrait mode right now, since it is designed to improve thumb typing.

Tactus also showed me a prototype of a Google Nexus tablet with its keyboard technology built-in. Bubbles rose once a notepad app was started, without the user having to slide anything. This was even more impressive, as it worked without a separate case for the device. 

The company intends to launch Phorm for the iPhone 6 Plus and other Android devices in the future, but has yet to announce a timeline for that.

Staff Writer Cherlynn Low is saving up for an iPad mini 3. Follow her @cherlynnlow. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide and on Facebook.