This tactile interface is being patented and involves "pixel-sized shape-memory plastic cells" that can "protrude from the surface on command" - cool.
Other companies like Nokia, Disney and Sensag are said to be working on similar technology which they refer to as 'vibrotactile displays'. Unfortunately for this particular method, which involves differing voltage frequencies, it can be noisy.
"In the patent, Microsoft proposes coating the display with a light-induced shape-memory polymer. This becomes hard and protruding when one wavelength of ultraviolet light is transmitted at a pixel, and soft when another wavelength hits it. By modulating these wavelengths, texture can be created, the patent claims." Science is fun.
The implications could be far reaching says German interaction expert Patrick Baudisch at the University of Potsdam. "Creating well-defined bumps on a touch surface is in many ways the holy grail of text entry on touch devices because it would enable touch typing at much faster speeds than on touchscreens today," he says.
"There would be no more reason for mobile keypads – they would simply be emulated when necessary. That could effect massive change in this field."
Apple may have beat Microsoft to the portable music market and launched their fancy iPad, but they look to get revenge by redefining touchscreen interaction itself! I'm sure they'd be open to licensing the technology to Apple ...for a reasonable price.