Atanu Dey On India's Development

Keith Hudson: On a smarter keyboard

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This is a guest post by my friend Keith Hudson. It is not really related to India’s economic development. Below the fold is a simple idea that Apple or any other computer hardware manufacturer may find useful. This post is to help put the idea in the public domain, for the record.

Over to Mr Keith Hudson.

Dateline: July 7th, 2012.

We’re now getting very close to the mature PC/tablet/smart phone, though it doesn’t have a name yet. Microsoft’s Surface, announced with the usual euphoria a day or two ago, comes closest. But it’s still beset with one problem. It’s too large. At around 12″ (30cm) x 8″ (20cm) it still needs to be shrunk further so that it’s the size of, say, a small paperback: something that can be comfortably slipped into a packet or handbag but, with the flip of a lid one way or the other, is equally able to be used as a phone or a PC.

Unlike Apple, Microsoft have been clever enough to realize that a keyboard is still necessary on any tablet that claims to be versatile. Even if voice recognition software becomes far more advanced, able to cope with any dialect or timbre, we’re now moving into a specialized age where the written or typed word is required to be more precise than ever. It can’t always be dictated as a one-off. But Microsoft have not yet paid as much attention to the keyboard as they have done elsewhere in their machine.

The problem is our finger-tips. They’re too wide. Thus we still require a keyboard that’s at least 10″ (25 cm) wide in order to accommodate everything we need. Otherwise, we’d be pressing two or even three keys at once more often than not unless we slowed down to snail pace. But we don’t need the keys to be the size of fingertips.

If Microsoft had some biologists among their researchers then they might have solved this problem because Nature has already done it. True, it’s in the visual department and not the tactile. At any one instant of time our eyes see only a small 2 degree cone of sharp vision before they flick elsewhere. Perception tails off steeply outside the cone. Why not the same for sharply sensitized pressure pads? With a smaller keyboard of about 8″ (200 cm) we’d always be impinging on two or three keys but if it responded only to a very small cone in the centre of each jab even the clumsiest person among us would soon learn to type each letter unambiguously.

There we are then. I’ve solved the next step for Apple or Microsoft, or Nokia or any other manufacturer. What’s more, by writing this I’ve prevented any of them claiming copyright and perhaps monopolizing the innovation for years to come as corporations are wont to do.

Keith shares his ideas on his blog All Is Status.

  • http://rexzilla.livejournal.com Rex

    This is good, and establishes prior art for the idea. The specifics of implementing it are left to the big companies to patent, but each one should be able to patent only a particular implementation.
    The problem with the American patent system is the patent office just blindly issues software patents (which ought not to exist, as is the case in the EU,and surprisingly, India) while lacking the expertise to evaluate the novelty of the innovation.

  • og

    Relax, we will all become X-(wo)men with ballpoint fingers just so we can type on touchscreens. Anyone who has experienced Alps, Das or Filco tactile keyboards, or even the lowly Thinkpads, will refuse to type on a tablet (or even a Macbook) for all but the shortest emergencies. Just consider Apple’s boneheaded refusal to adopt IBM’s Trackpoint mouse. Any laptop where you have to attach an external/wireless mouse to do precise Powerpoint (flowcharts) is a lost design.

    There is no point comparing Microsoft and Apple. Warts and all, Microsoft is still largely about workplace productivity. The same goes for Lenovo, HP and Dell. Apple is about design and style for teenagers and wannabe teenagers. Just browse Apple’s patent holdings to find how little a technology company and how much a design company it is. Nothing wrong with that but good to be aware of the truth.

  • http://seriousonlooker.blogspot.in abhijeet

    I am sure this point would have already been considered by many vendors.
    While it is logical to consider the most accurate conical area to determine the key stroke; what about initial position of the fingers?
    i.e. ASDF – left hand, and JKL; – right hand?
    We certainly need a bigger keyboard presicely for this initial position. Only then we can think of manoeuvring the fingers to the desired points.

  • Chandan

    I used to like IBM’s track point even though they caused occasional problems (e.g. an inadvertent touch to it would move the cursor to unpredictable spots, disrupting the work flow). But it took me a while to figure out what a bad design it was until its daily use in my full time job resulted in repetitive stress injury. I have since then started to take it out of my laptops if they are ever present. I am glad Apple’s MacBooks don’t have that crap.

  • tp

    @Chandan — Trackpoint vs. touchpad is like religions, no point arguing. The funny part is, I have seen Trackpoint fans say this and move on immediately, whereas Apple fans keep going on and on about the touchpad (which isn’t even an Apple invention). But even apart from the pointing device, Macbook keyboard keys are known to have a poor buckle force profile compared to the Thinkpad “scissor” keys (although all membrane keyboards suck). And to reduce thickness, Macbook keys are flat, not even sculpted. Of course, Thinkpad keys themselves are horrible compared to Alps or Cherry, but hardly anyone in India even knows about Alps, Cherry or Filco. What did you do on your Thinkpad, write code? Run CAD software? Spreadsheets? Slides? Something else? You can’t really use a laptop, “not even an Apple”, for serious typing without hurting yourself. Get a real keyboard. Any real keyboard costs over 150 USD.