Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 25th Oct 2012 14:52 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone, one of its most prominent and most controversial features was the on-screen keyboard. In as world dominated by devices with physical keyboards, it was seen as a joke, something that could never work. We know better by now, of course, but while I still prefer the physical feel and clicks of a real keyboard, a recent new endeavour of mine has made me appreciate the on-screen keyboard in a whole new way.
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RE: Not only that..
by Doc Pain on Thu 25th Oct 2012 22:57 UTC in reply to "Not only that.."
Doc Pain
Member since:
2006-10-08

In fact, what I feel it becomes "killer" with virtual keyboards is how they can easily adapt to the task at hand. Simple stuff as changing the keyboard layout when typing email addresses (making @ easily reachable, for example) or removing the space bar when typing url addresses and having a handy ".com".

It is a pity that people are not expanding this capability further.


The "problem" with keyboards having a different layout than the typical typewriter-like keyboard you find infront of PCs is that typists have learned certain "motor programs" to transform thoughts into keystrokes. There is no visual discovery or even confirmation involved in what the hands do. That makes this approach fast. The QWERT(Z/Y) layout may be suboptimal, but it is established in a way that most keyboards have a layout comparable to the "standard EN/US layout" that makes nearly any keyboard quickly usable. The idea is: "It works the same everywhere."

Dynamically programmable buttons, or "keys changing function according to current context" is nothing new. It's what PF keys (programmable function keys, the 12 or 24 on top) have initially been designed for. Of course the information what they will do is not provided on the keys theirselves - it would be useless as no typist looks at them. Instead this information is presented on the screen.

With the "blurring of concepts" of what is input and what is output on tablets and smartphones, there is the chance to re-invent the PF keys, but not just regarding "key captions", but also location and look. This can be an advantage if properly used, like removing keys that would generate invalid input for a certain task (like space bar for entering URIs, as you've mentioned). This is already done in several ways. As there is no tactile feedback on tablets, you don't have to deal with the "mechanical aspects" of keyboards and how it is important to typists. So the way is free to try new ideas.

An interesting "in-between" approach can be seen in the Optimus Keyboard:

http://www.artlebedev.com/everything/optimus/maximus/

http://thefutureofthings.com/upload/items_icons/Optimus-keyboard_la...

(the older version having a better layout)

Anyway, no typist looks at the keyboard. Those people around the typist look at it, and envy him for having such cool hardware. :-)

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