• 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.
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