$149 Phorm iPad Mini case gives users physical keyboard that only appears when needed

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At first glance, Phorm looks like any another Apple iPad Mini case. But if you push its large toggle switch on the back, you'll quickly see certain areas of the Phorm's protective screen bubble up with fluid. This fluid forms little button guides, which overlay the device's flat digital keyboard and provide a tactile guide while typing. When you don't need to use a keyboard, switch back the toggle and the bubbles flatten out and dissipate.

Developed by Tactus Technology, Phorm is meant to improve typing accuracy and increase productivity. According to Craig Ciesla, the company's CEO and founder, this haptic feedback helps users develop muscle memory in their fingers, and users should be able to peck out emails and messages faster than with a flush keyboard.

The "microfluid" as it is called, is stored near the upper left bezel of the case when inactive. Once the switch is turned on, it travels diagonally through several tiny grooves (which are hairline thin and barely visible when seen at a certain angle) that feed toward the letters of the keyboard. The technology doesn't require any battery power, and it is leakproof against daily wear and tear. Unfortunately, it can only accommodate the keyboard in portrait mode.

The screen itself is thin and feels a bit rubbery. During my brief time with the Phorm, the clear beads felt spongy and soft. The buttons were easy to press and I did find that the having that tactile guide slightly improved my typing experience and made it more comfortable.

Tactus is still exploring tablets and mobile phones with the reappearing keyboard built into the screens. James Martin/CNET

This isn't the first time we've heard from Tactus Technology. A couple of years ago, it developed a prototype for mobile phones with the same technology. The bubbling keyboard was built right into the handset's screen, however, and it's a concept Tactus hasn't given up on -- it's still working on this idea with tablets, and it expects to turn out a consumer product some time in 2016.

Meanwhile, the Phorm is available for presale now. It costs $149, but there is a special preorder promo price of $99. Units will ship out later this summer, and interested buys can sign up for an iPhone 6 Plus wait list, which is currently in development.

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Where to Buy

Tactus Phorm

Part Number: CNETtactusPhorm

MSRP: $149.00

Buy direct from Tactus.