Reminds me a bit of a court reporters keyboard, and makes me think of the Dvorak keyboard as well. As some of you may remember, the Qwerty keyboard was laid out to be slow enough to prevent jamming of mechanical typewriter keys. A Dvorak keyboard groups the most used keys all under the fingers, or nearest the center of the keyboard. A great idea preceding the advent of the ubiquitous electronic keyboard, but we call know how entrenched the kludgey Qwerty keyboard has become. Many systems allow one to switch to Dvorak, but I've never met a person who did. (Seems like it would be great for texting too.) A great idea that could never overcome reluctance to change. (See also, the metric system!)
I appreciate GeoOT's referral to that great developer, Mr. Engelbart. But the question whether it is a new invention matters less than whether people would desire to use it: In the same way 21st century PCs still use Engelbart's mouse of 1973, we're stuck with qwerty keyboards from the 1870s because most consumers are willing to remain mildly unhappy with their present interface methods! (As Ken E. added here later, the more ergonomic Dvorak keyb likewise cannot overcome this state of pacified entrenchment.) When I worked at MicroPersonal I'd developed a pointing device to replace the ubiquitous mouse and eliminate repetitive motion risks, but despite the better technology one reason we could not fund the project was due to the market showing a less-than-lukewarm desire for change (Beth's earlier post Re:Syntax? claims the "same old standard keyboard is totally natural" hence little or no impetus for change).
I have no objection with someone trying to convince the world now (as opposed to then) with the advantages of a chorded keyboard. My only point is that is a "development" and possibly a "product", not an invention. Invention and marketability are two entirely different domains.
Anyone who already knows how to type has a huge investment in "muscle memory" and brain-rewiring, undertaken specifically to semi-automate the conversion from verbal thought to finger motions. Sure, introducing something new for anyone who HASN'T already committed that effort and investment might make sense -- but they're rarely the ones buying the hardware. The majority of people who remember the time spent learning the QWERTY keyboard will have a surprisingly clear grasp of UNlearning the Old and THEN learning the New. And will pass on the "opportunity".
I and others have been discussing similar issues, re virtual keyboards, in particular the missing element of keystroke feedback. There have been "projected" keyboards on the market at various times; none of which appear to have fully captured any significant market share, although I have yet to find any reviews which fully characterize the "meh" factor(s) involved. There are various tablets on the market now whose carrying-case "cover" includes a touch-surface keyboard; even those come with an upgrade path to a keyboard offering tactile feedback. If vendors would share market stats, this would probably make a good test venue for some statistical analysis re the "need" for tactile/haptic feedback of some sort.
You guys seem to be overlooking an input device which is an alternative to qwerty keyboards which has become quite popular, despite requiring that a code be remembered - the 12 key cellphone pad. While it seems that many use two hands, one to hold the phone and one to press the keys, there are a considerable number of people who seem adept at using just one hand and a thumb to create text messages despite awkward hand positioning. About the only acknowledgement of existing syntax is essentially alphabetic order of the letter sequence, though the numbers are basically inverted from a typical keyboard. People will put up with an amazing degree of poor usability if they want the outcome badly enough, and an even more amazing degree of resistance to change from that method once it is engrained. (Remember the legions of staunch DOS supporters who were firm in their recognition that the crisp, clean power of IBM-supported, DOS command line syntax could never be challenged by the fly-by-night, wimpy, GUI & mouse interface presented by Steve Jobs.)
The key might be not in converting the current users, but by developing something which is attractive and can be used easily by all those who are NOT users of the current system. Far easier to influence people who are neutral than changing the minds of those who have already invested in learning their current system. Sort of a case of moving from a metastable position compared to moving up out of a local potential minimum, even though both end up at a lower potential in the end.
I can't believe how many Luddites read this column. So maybe this device is not the elegant endpoint of mobile keyboards; so maybe old QWERTY dogs don't want to learn new tricks. But when I see people walking through intersections with their attention on their keyboards, I know there has to be a better keyboard than QWERTY for mobile users.
This project perks up our attention for what could be. How about the mobile equivalent of what QWERTY and Dvorak were meant to be -- a fast way of sharing information as text. Perhaps we will end up with an international sign language for mobile devices. In the 1960s, people though I was silly for taking typing class. I say neener neener to them now. With billions of people on mobile devices, this project is a protoplasm of things to come.
It is unfortunate that the artical says "invented the chord keyboard" where as chord keyboards date back to the early 1800s and pre-date QWERTY. I did invent a different way to do it with ten keys and unlike other chord keyboards, results come at the second press and not when keys are released. There is no way to tell if people will be willing to try it but I suspect it will be helpful to some and just good geeky fun for others. Resistance to change is normal, remember, if man were meant to fly he would have wings...
Luddites, eh? Just because I played Tenor Sax for ten years doesn't mean that I have ANY right to assume that assigning text character values to musical notes means that an "instrumental" keyboard is going to succeed in the marketplace. History is full of "great products in search of a viable market" -- most of them rightfully gathering dust.
I LIKE the concept of a "gestural sign language" -- recent conversations with various people VERY fluent in ASL would seem to imply that signing COULD possibly compete with text in the key measure of information density. "Pictures" and "a thousand words", etc... All I can say with any surety is that THIS device is highly unlikely to be a Game Changer. Not enough of a distance between it and existing technology. Give me a gesture recognizing sensor, now, and we might have a productive conversation to look forward to.
I still say, though, that the best upgrade to the existing keyboard is going to be some mechanism which allows a computer to detect the finger movements associated with keystrokes withOUT requiring the keys. Gloves, or finger-watcher cameras, etc. No need to throw out the tried-and-true if it can be optimized and made more efficient. Paradigms don't HAVE to change.
The final showdown is under way in our first-ever Gadget Freak of the Year contest. Who will win an all-expenses-paid trip to the Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show? It's up to you, dear readers, to tell us.
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