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.