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  • How Touch Will Make Everything Better

    image via OpEdNews.com

    In the wake of intriguing hints about a new multi-touch keyboard from Apple and a similar product from Microsoft, pundits and observers have been speculating about our brave new virtual-keyboardin' future.

    Mike Elgan at Computerworld wrote a clever essay about some key reasons why on-screen keyboards will be better than the boxes-with-rows-of-buttons that have been the input method of choice since the days of Apollo 13:

    1. Customizability
    Virtual keyboards will allow for a really broad array of different layouts, from Dvorak to chorded to anything the mind can imagine. It'll also allow users of ideographic languages like Chinese to devise more efficient ways to input chatacters.

    2. Haptics
    Although not included in the patent application by either Apple or Microsoft, the technology of haptics - extremely subtle tactile clues, RumblePak-type vibrations that tell your fingers where they are and what's going on - is coming into its own at the same time. When playing a pinball game on a prototype tablet made by Immersion Corporation, a user was able to "feel a metal ball rolling on a hard surface." This technology will allow for much more detailed interactivity in things beyond the world of gaming.

    3. Speed
    Elgan asserts that predictive typing - the auto-complete feature that replaces a popular expletive with the word "duck" in the iPhone's default dictionary - will increase in sophistication and accuracy. He also notes that the absence of a lag for keys to be depressed, as well as integrating cursor control in the same surface as the keyboard will add up to a leap in speed one users become accustomed to them.

    4. Cleanliness.
    Keyboards have 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. Nuff said.

    5. Upgradability
    With the right adaptor, you can use an XT keyboard on your new Alienware box. That keyboard, though, has the same functionality as when it was new in 1985. Virtual keyboards can be modified and extended by firmware upgrades and hacks, and that will allow for innovation through experimentation.

    6. Bigger screens
    Finally, the fact that a visual keyboard can appear and disappear when needed means that the entire screen will become a touch surface in applications like graphics and gaming... and your entire desk can potentially be the computer desktop.

    We don't know what directions touch technology will take computing in years to come. The beauty of it, though, is that it's potentially limited by nothing but the imagination. Instead of being locked into a technology that was intentionally set up to make us type slower, the keyboards of the future can be cleverly designed to - literally in some cases - get out of our way.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: How Touch Will Make Everything Better started by Paul Daniel Ash View original post
    Comments 25 Comments
    1. keysloser's Avatar
      keysloser -
      Quote Originally Posted by mikerlx View Post
      My thoughts on a virtual keyboard is it could happen but I doubt apple will produce it. There are still the physical keyboard preference over the iphone basically virtual keyboard, so if there is a virtual keyboard there will always be a demand for physical in the world marketplace. Exciting for any and all innovation from the Apple company.
      There could also be a mix of physical and virtual interface.

      Take Virtual Reality which we actually thought we were headed towards, only to find out Augmented Reality was waiting for us behind the corner.

      Actually this article has given much food for thought and we definitely are bound only by our own imagination.
    1. rwin84's Avatar
      rwin84 -
      I think this awesome. I am going to follow this a little more closely...
    1. kaaroFC's Avatar
      kaaroFC -
      Thats all true, I can't wait for everything to be more interactive and simpler!
    1. adrian1480's Avatar
      adrian1480 -
      Quote Originally Posted by awesomeiPod View Post
      Apple went way too far on touch devices. Using a touch keyboard for gaming? I don't think so.
      dot.

      iPhone should be our lesson leanred. a device will need to have some kind of keyboard attachment (bluetooth?), otherwise, it'll be niche. virtual keyboards are nice as long as you don't have to actually say much.
    1. jrlederer's Avatar
      jrlederer -
      I once bought a product that was ahead of its time. It was sold through ThinkGeek.com and was from a company by the name of FingerWorks. After comtemplating whether it could possibly be worth so much $$, I finally made the $300+ plunge and bought this gesture processing surface they called the TouchStream LP which came with a note of caution on the retailer's website saying that "unless you are prepared to relearn everything you know about entering data into a computer, please do not buy this product as there is a steep learning curve that requires serious dedication to becoming proficient at...oh yeah...and no refunds! All purchases are final."

      I had forgotten about the name of this device and so did a search and found a little conversation on another board where people talked about the FingerWorks TouchStream LP, which I am going to include below to save myself the typing since they cover most of what might be interesting already.

      Anyway, the point of this post was to make the point that I thought it was kind of ironic that the reason this seemingly unbelievably advanced input device was discontinued not due to lack of sales, but because our favorite company (Apple) had the foresight to know how smart of an idea this small company was worth and bought them out in a heartbeat. I just wish that I would've recognized this and invested all my money in Apple at the time since that was pretty good amount of time ago and I suppose I'd be able to buy one of the new tablets, or keyboards, or whatever the F(*&k they come up with when it is available.

      --------
      posted from another site...excerpts from a conversation describing the company, their product, and what happened....
      --------
      So, the keyboard is two flat plastic planes separated by a ribbon cable (design defect, but it's fairly robust). The planes are screenprinted with a pretty good, but relatively unique, keyboard layout. If you touch and then lift a single finger in the rough vicinity of a printed key, it will register a keytouch. It takes some getting used to, and my error rate with it is much higher than with a mechanical keyboard. But, the mouse makes up for that.

      The same exact surface functions, at the same time, as the mouse. If, instead of touching and lifting a single finger, you touch and hold two fingers (together, like the boyscout salute) to the surface, you take control of the mouse pointer. Touching and lifting two fingers is a click. Touching and dragging three fingers is click+drag (e.g. select text, resize a box, etc.). Tapping three fingers is a shortcut for double click.

      So, you type for a while, then you use the mouse, back and forth, totally automatically and your hands never leave their position. None of this is pressure based. You don't press down, mind you--the harder you touch, the worse it works actually. You simply touch. You can even use it wearing gloves and it'll work pretty well.

      If you choose to enable it, there's some typo-correction software running on the keyboard's processor--I'm a programmer who types all sorts of non-nonsensical gibberish, so I turned that **** off immediately. But, the keyboard recognizes dozens of gestures. These gestures map to keyboard emissions--you swipe three fingers in a downward gesture, the keyboard spits out Ctrl+A+r, or "ls -a n". You can also enable "invisible" buttons--sections of keyboard designated for non-English keymaps, and so unprinted on QWERTY keyboards, bit still available in software.

      All of these features (and like two hundred more) are programmable with a Java-based utility.. It's kind of obsolete, and so can be challenging to get running on some systems. But, it does allow you to customize everything.

      One neat feature is that those customizations are on the keyboard. They're not driver configuration changes. You can set it up to run perfectly at home, and then take it to work, and plug it in. The work computer will recognize it as a completely standards-compliant USB hub with a USB keyboard and USB mouse plugged in. The keyboard will perform nearly identically to how it did at home, even though you haven't installed one tiny iota of software--mouse speed/acceleration is the only real variant, other than the context-sensitive meaning of keybindings. You can take it to the locked down computer at the library and it'll work perfectly. As far as a computer is concerned, it's the $7 keyboard and mouse that came in the box with it.

      This keyboard is quite literally the keyboard of the future. The one that really wins will have better tactile feedback (this one is like typing on a tabletop) and will probably put a display behind the keyboard so that the keymap can be changed on the fly.

      The only failing of this keyboard is that it SUCKS for first-person video games. There's no way to hold down a letter key: either you tap and release, sending the letter; or you hold down the key, which waits (an adjustable) amount of time before handling autorepeat on the keyboard.

      Good luck finding one. When you do, scour the interwebs for the manual and all that jazz. It's like the keyboard from Star Trek... and you need the documentation.
      posted by Netzapper at 3:44 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


      Netzapper, that sounds absolutely awesome. I wonder why this received no publicity while something like the Optimus Maximus keyboard has had lots of hype (and, besides the coolness of the micro-lcd display under every key, is reported to be quite chunky and clunky, not to mention the price tag)
      posted by _dario at 8:26 PM on July 3


      I wonder why this received no publicity while something like the Optimus Maximus keyboard has had lots of hype (and, besides the coolness of the micro-lcd display under every key, is reported to be quite chunky and clunky, not to mention the price tag)

      It did get publicity, actually. ThinkGeek even sold it. It was reviewed in a number of publications. The problem was multifold. And, at least the main problem might not be considered a problem.

      First, the keyboards were expensive: $350. This was one of the first "smart" keyboards. There was no Optimus with a price of $1200 to legitimize the Touchstream price. So, everybody who wanted a keyboard and mouse was left with the decision between $100 for top-quality conventional gear or three times that for really weird gear.

      Second, the learning curve is very steep on the Touchstream. My wife won't touch it. Most people who sit down at my machine and ignore me as I instruct them in using the keyboard wind up minizing, opening, closing a zillion windows and typing huge strings of gibberish. You have to learn how to use it. It goes against all of your instincts from using mechanical keyboards.

      Third, it's ******* terrible for gaming. So, there goes the largest market for silly-*** input devices. The keyboard has no reasonable way of holding down a key. Even if the game has a debounce setting to interpret autorepeat as a hold, the time spent before the keyboard starts autorepeat is either too long for gaming or too short for typing--yyyoou ttypee lllike thhiiss iff itt wwworkks forrr ggammmiingg. The keyboard has a "game mode", where the entire way you control the mouse changes, and the lefthand pane becomes entirely directional. This works kind of okay for FPS games (although it was a handicap at every LAN party), but terribly for every other genre and for using the mouse for more standard tasks.

      But they were working on all that. Each firmware update was (mostly) better than the last. The real thing that ended Fingerworks was Apple. Apple very quietly bought them. For years, one of the things Fingerworks did was convert Mac notebooks to use the Fingerworks keyboards. You ship them your Mac, they rip put the old keyboard and mouse and install a Touchstream. For years there were rumors that Apple wanted to, in some way, get this technology introduced as a factory feature.

      Then one day Fingerworks' website said, "We're not making keyboards anymore. Buy 'em while we've got them." Then a few weeks later it said, "We don't exist as a separate entity anymore. Here's our support page; we'll leave the forums up too." A couple weeks later, rumors of Apple having new touchsensitive technology started coming out.

      Then, maybe a year or two later, there was the iPhone. And every one of those gestures on an iPhone is on my keyboard. Thing is, they were patented by Fingerworks. The entire interface design was heavily encumbered by patents. I don't think they're using the same optical sensor as the Fingerworks stuff (I believe it's capacitive on modern Apple products), but the software is the important part here.
      Anyway, sorry for such a long post...hope everyone is well and enjoying their week so far.
      All the best to all.

      --jonathan