The Key to a Better Keyboard: No Keys
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Physical keyboards are so 1984. This touch screen is a keyboard for the iPad era.
By Simon Cohen
Most of us live in two typing worlds these days. In one, there’s the click-clack of little plastic keys as we peck through emails and Google docs on our laptops or desktops. In the other, it’s decidedly hushed, thanks to touch-screen smartphones and tablets. Isn’t it time our larger devices had a quieter keyboard option, as well?
That’s the whole premise behind a new, crowdfunded product called the 101touch. The brainchild of three friends from the Czech Republic, it’s an input device the size and shape of an extended physical keyboard, but with a glass touch screen instead of physical keys. “[We had a] dissatisfaction with an incredibly high number of keyboard shortcuts in various programs, which were impossible to remember,” says Martin Turčík, one of 101touch’s co-founders. The keyboard runs a custom version of the Android operating system that powers its killer app: endless customization.
Download additional keyboard templates from the equivalent of an app store, or create your own.
Fixed physical keyboards mean that hard-core gamers, musicians, video editors or people who routinely switch from one language to another are forced to seek software solutions or, more likely, expensive add-on peripherals. With the 101touch, users can download additional keyboard templates from the equivalent of an app store, or they can create their own. Special gaming template for World of Warcraft? Check. Music-mixing template? Check. Oversized keys for those with vision impairments? Why not?
Given that touch-screen devices have been popular since the introduction of the iPhone seven years ago, it’s surprising no one has developed a freestanding, customizable touch-screen keyboard before now. There have been a few attempts at reinventing the humble keyboard, such as Art Lebedev’s Optimus Maximus, which was the darling of the tech community back in 2007, but its stratospheric price kept it out of reach for most consumers. Which could make the 101touch, at a proposed price of about $203, a bargain — if it reaches its Kickstarter funding goal.
Is it a perfect solution? No. Andy Walker, senior strategist at Florida-based Cyberwalker Digital, says that there are still many people who will not appreciate a touch-screen keyboard. “What’s missing is the tactility some people have come to expect from a keyboard,” Walker says. “It won’t have the feel of an old-school keyboard, and some people type via touch.”
The 101touch can’t offer the tactile experience of real keys, but it does offer small vibrations and sounds to users who enable those options. Walker notes that the useful life of a touch-screen keyboard may be limited, since “gestures and voice will be more important than input via keys” within the next 10 years, he says. He may be right, but in the meantime it looks like the 101touch could be the upgrade our PCs have been asking for.