Touchscreen vs. Keyboard, the Sequel
Last week, I wrote about how touchscreens are forcing the reinvention of keyboards, looking into how touchscreen keypads are easily updateable, yet can be cumbersome to type on. The post also highlighted a few solutions that tech companies are working on in this area.
The piece elicited a variety of reactions — even Roger Ebert seems to think it might be too late to learn a new keyboard. I also received a fair number of follow-up emails pointing out some interesting technologies that I’d missed.
So here are some other options for the touchscreen-averse:
Talk Emo to Me
The Siine Writer app is based on editable icons. Each icon, or “Siine,” is supposed to convey three different words or phrases, depending on how many times the user taps it.
So, instead of typing out a text-laden message, users tap a series of visual cues that send the message to the person on the receiving end.
Users make the Siines by downloading the app from the Android market, going to the emoticon screen, holding down an emoticon and selecting “create,” to assign a new picture, a name and the corresponding text for the emoticon. After that, the Siine emoticon will appear on the user’s keyboard.
It’s a pretty nifty idea, though there would likely still be a need to enter text for more random words, and words used less frequently.
Siine is based in London and Barcelona; the company launched in 2007, and received funding last February from Atomico, the VC firm of Niklas Zennstrom, best known for co-founding Skype.
The free app is available in both English and Spanish for devices running Android OS. There’s also a tablet version of the app, available exclusively from Samsung Apps; at the moment, there isn’t a Siine app available for iPhone or iPad.
The Next Productivity Killer at Work
Here’s a familiar sequence of events: You’re typing away at your desk, and your phone pings — loudly — alerting you and the rest of the office to the fact that you’ve got a message. You’re in the middle of doing work, so you ignore it. But you don’t, really: You glance at your phone’s interface, quickly, just to check. But, wait — it’s your friend, asking if you want in on tickets that are going to sell out in exactly 47 seconds. Or it’s your significant other, asking if you could meet the handyman at the apartment. Or it’s your mom. You simply have to respond.
What if you could just keep typing on your desktop keyboard — and still respond to your urgent calls?
That’s the kind of keyboard Matias has come up with.
The Canada-based company uses Bluetooth technology to wirelessly connect your phone to your keyboard and toggle between your desktop screen and phone — you’re still typing on your keyboard, but the text is appearing on the screen of your smartphone. (Here’s a video from CES that shows how this works, courtesy of Engadget.)
There are three Matias models — the $79 Slim One Keyboard, the $99 One Keyboard and the $199 Tactile One Keyboard — and all of them work on both PCs and Macs. The One and the Slim One are available now; the Tactile One will begin shipping in May.
The cheapest model, the Slim One, does not include a hub for your phone. The $99 One Keyboard includes a USB 2.0 hub and in-keyboard stand to hold your phone. The $199 Tactile One Keyboard has all of that, plus Alps mechanical key switches, which means there are real switches under each key.
And for those of you who wrote to me and suggested the Dvorak style of keyboard as an alternative to the traditional keyboard layout — Matias also makes a Dvorak keyboard for PCs and Mac computers.
Projecting Into the Future
We’ve seen at least one example of a laser-projection device that can create a keyboard out of any opaque surface. But what if you could make a keyboard out of any surface? What if you could make a keyboard … out of thin air?
MicroVision, a company specializing in laser-display technology, announced earlier this month the availability of its new laser-display engine, the PicoP Gen 2 HD laser display (the company’s patented display, PicoP, is actually the tech behind OmniTouch, mentioned in the previous article.)
The Gen 2 display takes it a step further: MicroVision’s PicoP Gen 2 can turn any projected image into a virtual touchscreen, regardless of the surface it’s being projected onto — or whether there’s even any surface at all. The PicoP Gen 2 HD laser display engine boasts 720p HD image projection and interactive displays up to 200 inches diagonal. MicroVision also announced technology for 3-D projectors, which could project 3-D images from a small display device.
While this kind of technology might have a more obvious place in the gaming market, it can also be used in conjunction with mobile devices to allow users to “step away from the screen.”
The company is emphasizing that this is still a prototype; MicroVision expects to begin sending samples to selected manufacturers for testing sometime early this year.
(There aren’t any images of this technology being deployed, so you’ll just have to imagine that keyboard in thin air for now.)
Forget the Keyboard — It’s All About Voice
Still other readers threw the four-letter word at me. Not that one. They were talking about Siri — and her competitors — saying they believe that touchscreen technologies, tactile or otherwise, are all moot because of the emergence of voice-command technology. Voice recognition is now in smartphones, gaming consoles and “smart” TV sets; is it only a matter of time before we’re dictating everything to our computer screens?