Category Archives: Hardware

Quaint, but no banana

So you have lashed out and purchased your lovely new iPad, and it’s love, so naturally you’re seek ways to make it truly yours. You want to instil upon the device an expression of your own unique personality – a kind of consumerist bonding ritual, perhaps.

There are a plethora of accessories on the market, from covers in an almost infinite array of colours and designs to an overwhelming choice of stickers, faux crystals and the like. Since the boom of mobile technology, designers are presenting us with an ever-expanding choice of accoutrements – their inventiveness escalating by the day.

Check out this très novel device – it mods your 21st century tablet into a mechanical typewriter of yesteryear.

While there is an undeniable charm to the retro design, would this kitsch apparatus add value to your iPad in terms of functionality as a text input device?

Sorry hipsters – quaint, but no banana.

No doubt the initial novelty of imagining oneself to be a 17th century author would lose its shine quite quickly – perhaps in the time it takes to upload an enigmatic picture of you with it, treated with just the right retro filter. The device would then gather dust on the shelf along with the Box Brownie and other charming objet d’art.

You see, the world has made giant leaps since the typewriter in terms of technological advancement – the mechanical has become digital, facilitating a logarithmic increase in functionality.

If you know your history, the letters of the typewriter are in that seemingly random order because typists of the day became too fast and the printing mechanisms became stuck. The mechanical problem was solved by separating the most frequently used letters as much as possible. That’s right – it was a move to slow typists down.

The fact is, the conception of the QWERTY keyboard was not motivated by the need for optimal usability, but by the need to solve a mechanical problem.

Funny thing is, although keyboards are no longer mechanical, we have inherited the QWERTY keyboard from this device manufactured in seventeenth century. The continuing unthinking adoption of the QWERTY system is the technological equivalent to an aberrant gene, and successive generations are inflicted with it.

We are being lavished with more devices and apps than we can eat, yet we can only await the evolution of text input technology with giddy anticipation.

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Filed under Fun, Hardware, Interfaces, Usability

Wingz SmartKeyboard: Will It Fly?

I haven’t covered keyboards lately, so I thought it was high time I did. I discovered the Wingz SmartKeyboard while browsing Kickstarter. It’s designed to solve the usbaility issue of texting on a touchscreen.

Wingz SmartKeyboard

Wingz SmartKeyboard

Wingz can connect as a bluetooth keyboard to a tablet or smartphone. But it’s also a “mobile device” itself — since the touchscreen panel at the middle actually runs on Android. You can actually stick a sim card in there to make calls and send texts.

While this is one way to solve the keyboard problem of touchscreen devices, I still think that lugging around yet another “too big for my pocket” device is a step back from mobility. And what would be the advantage of this over a Bluetooth keyboard?

I personally own an Apple Wireless Keyboard, the slimmest such device around, and even I don’t carry it around often. I tried carrying it around to pair with my iPad for writing on the go but the two device combo just doesn’t work well in actual usage. I just conceded defeat and bring a laptop when I need some writing done.

As an accessory, I would put Wingz on the same shelf as the Bluetooth headset, the external USB numeric keypad and the touchscreen stylus. It’s possibly useful for some people but for most it’s too much of a fiddle.

As a companion to a tablet or smartphone, I don’t think yet another device is the answer and certainly not one as expensive as this ($240). Every mobile device already has the best input method available: its own screen. It’s not tactile but it is very portable. So I guess the problem really is software and not hardware. Let’s stick to making virtual keyboards better first.

So does Wingz have the wings to fly? It’s certainly crashed and burned on Kickstarter – not even raising 1% of it’s $54K target.

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Filed under Hardware, Interfaces, Mobile

Textees: A Keystroke of Genius

Say good-bye to embarrasing typos, unpredictable predictive text predictions or incorrect auto-correct corrections. Just roll one of these little rubber numbers onto your errant digit and Robert’s your relative!

YouTube Preview Image

Introducing Textees – a wearable solution to texting on those tiny, squished-up QWERTY keyboards on your otherwise easy-to-use touchscreen device. Both low-tech and low-allergenic, you can finally hit the letter you were aiming for.

Red Textees

Who needs fancy-pants hi-tech wizardry like lexical dictionaries, semantic prediction and pressure sensitive piezo-electric sensors when you can solve the problem with a stylish, go-anywhere mini-fingertip in 6 fabulous flavours? The fact that they look like upside-down rubber bondage undies (with attachments and accessibility options) only adds to the fun.

Thanks Textees!

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Filed under Hardware, Innovation, Mobile, Usability

Apple’s keyless keyboard: Once more with feeling

A recently published patent application indicates that Apple is finally looking to address the major gripe that people have with touch screen interfaces. They acknowledge in their patent that other touch sensitive devices lack the tactile, button-like reassurance of a traditional keyboard. In other words, you have no clue whether you’ve hit the right key or not.

Apple's keyless keyboard

Apple’s game changing design incorporates “pressure sensitive piezo-electric sensors” which can distinguish between deliberate keystrokes and accidental finger taps. Their keyboard design won’t actually have any individual keys; instead it will deliver one pleasant vibration for an accurate hit and another harsher vibration for a miss hit. Instant fingertip accuracy feedback!

They also note that the new design could incorporate any form of input-surface device for a computing system, not just a traditional QWERTY layout. As there are no actual buttons, any layout can be lit up from underneath the glass.

virtual keyboards can now get physical

So is this the start of Apple opening its doors to the possibility of more intuitive and interesting input methods?

And will all these changes add up to improved user experience while typing – for instance, a keyboard built around the shape of our hands and the differing length of each finger rather than rigid horizontal rows?

And can it deliver the holy grail of truly mobile touch typing?

I for one sincerely hope it’s a yes on all counts!

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Filed under Hardware, Innovation, Mobile, Usability