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Input Devices Technology

Touchpad Meets Morphing Keyboard 85

Several sources are reporting on the new offering from the British firm Pelikon which combines a touchpad and morphing keyboard into a unique little device. "This isn't just any old morphing keyboard, you see. Not only can the board be dynamically reconfigured by backlighting different portions of the keys — the entire surface of the thing doubles as a touchpad, which you can probably imagine has virtually limitless utility in a mobile device where the space for a true touchpad simply doesn't exist. Pelikon already works with Toshiba on its domestic-market Biblio, but we'd love to see it hit devices around the world — in fact, we wouldn't really mind if they just released this prototype they're showing as a Bluetooth accessory. diNovo Mini competitor, anyone?"
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Touchpad Meets Morphing Keyboard

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  • This thing seems really cool, and perhaps I'm just being stupid here, but...I can't really think of any practical application for this. I know there are probably dozens, but I honestly can't think of any.

    Anyone want to kick my Monday-rattled brain?

    • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

      by viking099 ( 70446 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @12:27PM (#31317584)

      HTPC input device would be something I would like.

      I don't like trackballs, and keeping a big keyboard floating around the living room sucks.

      It's not like you need a keyboard for 90% of the time you're using an HTPC, but that 10% is usually sort of critical, and using an on screen keyboard is barely above an exercise in futility.

      So if it goes up for ~$80, I might buy it just to get rid of the keyboard and mouse setup I have in my living room.

      • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

        by cromar ( 1103585 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @12:31PM (#31317642)
        A wireless version would make an awesome home theater control device - especially if it could be programmed to morph to match the service you're using at the moment. It would be neat to have it change automatically from a video remote, to a game pad, to audio control w/ EQ, to keyboard for email and social media, to slider for lighting control, etc.
        • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

          I think what you describe is fairly common. I've seen high-end remote controls that were programmable LCD touch-screens. I saw these 10 years ago with B&W LCDs.

          • I find touch-screen devices suck as remotes, as you generally need to look at the device to accurately position your finger over specific controls.

            It's annoying for doing such mundane things like fast-forwarding through commercials, for example.

            • +1 Agree

              I have a generic programmable remote with a couple of hard-buttons and a biggish touch LCD. As with the topical device, each key is fixed in size and location but can vary in function. The hard-buttons are fine, but I keep wanting to overlay some form of grid to help my sense the key boundaries (but I never get around to doing anything about it).

            • "fast-forwarding"... "commercials"... I seem to vaguely remember dealing with these concepts in my youth, I thought we had moved past such user-unfriendly concepts years ago.
        • LogiTech's TouchPad app for the iPhone does this really nicely - no more wireless or on-screen keyboard for me!
        • by macraig ( 621737 )

          There's been remote control software for years like that for Pocket PCs with infrared output. It wouldn't be a stretch to add Bluetooth, if they haven't already. It really makes sense on Pocket PCs with larger displays, like my iPAQ hx4700 (4", 640x480). Why spend hundreds on that top-of-the-line Logitech Harmony when the same can get you a device that can do other stuff when you're not on the couch?

        • That sounds like an iPod touch plus an app. And I wouldn't be surprised if the app already exists.

      • by Pojut ( 1027544 )

        Ah yes, that would indeed be a perfect use for this thing. Thank you!

      • by Rary ( 566291 )

        That would be cool. Unfortunately they're not planning on selling it to you or me. They're only selling it to mobile phone manufacturers.

        • I'm sure they could be persuaded if there were a market for it. Once they've developed the thing it makes sense for them to find as many applications for it a possible.

    • It seems to me like a cellphone-sized Optimus Maximus (http://www.artlebedev.com/everything/optimus/). I can see a lot more use for the full-size keyboard than for a cellphone version though.

      Maybe to provide a phone with most of the user interface flexibility of an iPhone without sacrificing tactile feedback?

      • Yea, I see a Sad end to the Optimus Maximus keyboars. Too Little, Too Expensive, Too Late. The normal keyboard will probably still have a long life, as it is cheap and people know how to use it. For people who need something more configurable they will use the multi-touch displays. For the most people who know how to type do not necessarily look at their keyboard anyways. So the value of the Optimus keyboard is very small.

      • by toastar ( 573882 )

        This is way too small of a keyboard to faceroll

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ircmaxell ( 1117387 )
      I think it would be even more useful if it offered an LCD (OLED perhaps?) screen instead of "just" a keyboard (Although it would negatively effect battery life). Then imagine the possibilities. You could configure it as a keyboard, as a "mouse", or even as a dedicated input panel (think something analogous to a Point Of Sale keyboard, where you can use icons instead of just "keys"). I would personally be able to find uses on a desktop, laptop and a cellphone (Although I don't think I'd carry around a sec
      • That device already exists. It's called the "iPhone". It makes calls as well. It just doesn't have that stupid grid on it, so that you can actually read stuff on its screen. I predict this "iPhone" will be popular once more people hear of it.
        • Why would I want to make phone calls from my keyboard? Oh, and the "stupid grid" lets my fingers know which button I'm pressing without having to look at it (a crazy little thing called tactile feedback).
    • nah, I was thinking this too. Really if you have a touchpad/keyboard, you're going to have issues of functionality as both of those have entirely separate methods of input. Trying to combine them means one of them is going to have to compromise. in this case, it's a flat panel as opposed to an actual small keyboard.

      So my thoughts were that it just isn't realistic. lots of hubbub, and that's it.

  • Neat! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cromar ( 1103585 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @12:19PM (#31317444)
    One step closer to the death of our current, inefficient control devices? I like the idea of devices that morph to fit the domain of the program they are controlling. On the other hand, this isn't that much different from a touch-screen emulating a keyboard... probably more sturdy, though.

    Hopefully, one more (prototypical) nail in the coffin of windowing systems and carpal tunnel inducing interface devices.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I like the idea of devices that morph to fit the domain of the program they are controlling.

      I detect one thing that will completely spoil any good that may become of this. Two words: average users. If you can't get them to use malware scanners and if you can't convince them that opening binaries found in emails sent by random strangers is a terrible idea, best of luck explaining how to morph a keyboard to fit the program domain.

      Idiots have killed many more worthy ideas. Here, "idiot" means someone w

      • indeed, but computers once fell into the category of 'to complex for stupid people' as well.

        Sure some still can't use them, but obviously the computer is going strong.
  • Fingerworks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MacFury ( 659201 ) <me@@@johnkramlich...com> on Monday March 01, 2010 @12:23PM (#31317512) Homepage
    This looks like an evolution of what FingerWorks was building before being purchased by Apple. Fingerworks multitouch technology led to the iPhone, macbook multitouch trackpad, etc. Their Frogpad product: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qg8IB64yu8 [youtube.com]
  • This seems really neat and all. However...

    I have experience with two laptops. One had a touchpad, the other had both a touchpad and a trackpoint.

    When I only had a touch pad, I carried around an external mouse (well, trackball; Logitech Marble Mouse to be exact)---and I dreaded the times where I'd forget to bring it along and have to use the touch pad. With my current laptop which has a track point, I don't even think about whether I should bring along an external mouse---the track point works great and it's more convenient to not have to plug anything in. [and with edge scrolling and infinitely wide edges, the touchpad now works as a "scroll pad".]

    Granted, it the touchpad-only laptop was el cheapo and perhaps the touch pad wasn't the greatest. But still---track points are really great input devices (at least the one I have), and they're small enough to fit on practically speaking anything.

    So why bother with turning your keyboard into a touchpad? I imagine the user might trace a vertical line, intending to move the mouse around, but the device going "oh, r-f-v-space, what an interesting key combo." Or the user pawing and poking the keys somewhat less than straight, and the device not picking up on it. It seems... with my experience of touchpads, this seems like it could be dangerously full of fail and meh.

    (my $cents = 2)

    • I actually preferred a touch point to a mouse for productivity tasks when I a laptop that had one. Not having to take your fingers off the keys is a nice feature and with a little bit of practice can be nearly as fast as using a mouse. It's remarkably hard to find a low cost laptop with a touch point though, most people just don't like them.

      • by Amouth ( 879122 )

        my only problem with Track Points is that 90% of them don't have the ability to do acceleration (harder you push it the faster it moves).. so i always feel like i'm waiting for the cursor to get where i want it - and if you just knock the sensitivity up to make it faster you lose precision

        the lenovo x200's have really nice track points - but they have to as they removed the touch pad

        • Best non laptop keyboard made is the IBM type m with the touchpoint, it's proportional and in the correct place to not have to move your hand. You change the little rubbery bit every year or so

      • It's remarkably hard to find a low cost laptop with a touch point though

        Damn right, I was just looking for one, but the cheapest laptops with touch points are some horrendously overpriced Lenovos. I know they're good but they're not "50% more expensive"-good.

    • by cromar ( 1103585 )
      What is your problem with the touch pad :) ?
      • by TheLink ( 130905 )

        The only intuitive interface is the nipple. :)

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pointing_stick#Informal_names [wikipedia.org]

        Seriously though, my problem with the touchpad is by default they are set to also dual-task as buttons e.g. "tap to click". And often it's hard to turn that off (e.g. relevant driver/software not installed).

        You could be moving the mouse pointer about then it clicks on something instead of moves. Or you could be dragging something about and then it drops in the wrong place.

        • by theJML ( 911853 )

          I can honestly say I've never had that problem. The Touchpad just seems SO much more intuitive than the nipple mouse. In my book I try to imagine a world where that thing never existed. I have two think pads with only the touch point (They were given to me) and I pretty much always have to carry a mouse around if I want to use it for more than the simplest tasks.

          The multiple defined areas and sensitivity of the touch pad make it an indispensable tool to me, and the newer it is, the better and better they've

  • Bah (Score:5, Funny)

    by sleekware ( 1109351 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @12:37PM (#31317736)
    This device is pathetic compared to the Model M. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Model_M)
  • if Swype supported it.
  • Maybe it's just me, but I have the distinct feeling that ten or twenty years down the road, input devices like this will be featured in "What Were They Thinking?"-type articles on slow news days.

    Of course, those articles will be about five characters long, so as not to tax the attention span of a reading public for whom 140 characters is a feature-length article.

  • Touch Feedback? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Drethon ( 1445051 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @12:59PM (#31318084)
    Maybe its just me but I have a hard time with typing with no feedback. I like feeling where I'm at on a keyboard...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Neoprofin ( 871029 )
      Agreed, I hate trying to convince myself that my friends iPhone can figure out which keys I meant to hit, especially the times when it has to wait until the end of the word to fix something. It takes typing from something that I can do by second nature on a couple of different keyboard layouts to something an exercise in trust and patience.
    • Maybe its just me but I have a hard time with typing with no feedback. I like feeling where I'm at on a keyboard...

      My father used to say the same thing with computer keyboards as compared to typewriters.
      Don't worry the next generation will adjust fine.

      • The next reply below summed up my thoughts pretty well. The difference between a computer keyboard and typewriters are how hard you hit the key but you can still tell if you care centered on a key or two keys before you press it. With touch screens you can punch in between two keys and not know until the letters pop up.

        Maybe you can learn to respond by visual cues but I tend to catch mistyped letters by feel and if I don't feel it I tend not to even pick up that it was mistyped.

        Just my $0.02
        • The magic word in OEM land is tactile vibrations. You can use it for feedback, and even have things like a circle drawn on your screen and you can feel it. That said, as a keyboard collector I know it will never get as good as 25 years ago. This is the borderland between typewriters and computers shipped with cheap $5 rubber dome boards, when they didn't yet realize you cannot compete if you ship your computer with a $250 keyboard. It is one of the few technologies which became worse and worse over the year
    • My (android) phone uses vibrations to provide feedback. You don't know exactly which key you typed, but - to be honest - that's the same with normal keyboards. Of course, with normal keyboards you have the 'f' and 'j' keys together with finger placement to help you type. It's not perfect, but you will know that you hit a key.

  • It needs keys with full-fledged displays under them to be truly useful. Just having a few preset functions printed on the key caps doesn't cut it. Having it feature glidepad functionality only helps if you're ONLY going to have a keypad; any time you have enough space for a keyboard AND a keypad, you have room for a glidepad.

    • you mean one of these badboys? [artlebedev.com]

      • Yeah, something like that, but with at least 78% less abuse to my... wallet. I want one very much, but there's no way to justify the cost even to myself. Add touchpad functionality to a keypad made like that, though, and that kind of cost-per-key might make a viable product.

  • I missed the part where it 'morphs'... Do they mean the part where they change the video on the touchscreen? Cuz seriously, that's not 'morphing'.

    Somehow, cutting grooves in a touchscreen doesn't excite me.

    • I'm glad I'm not the only person thinking this. It looks like either a touchscreen display with some bias towards being an on-screen keyboard, or a reprogrammable mini keyboard. Which are each sort of cool, but not really groundbreaking.
    • What you missed is that it is not a touchscreen.

      It's a trackpad, that has grooves/ridges for tactile feedback, plus backlighting to indicate state changes for the "buttons" and input mode changes for the device.

  • Very similar to the project that I tried to do for my original masters program. I'm glad to see that someone has taken this up as a real product as it is lovely to prove my doubting professors wrong. They provided no help at all and essentially forced me to change my project.
    My version differed from this, in that it was the size and dimensions of a full keyboard and was a touch screen, but in essence very similar. Further to that I suggested that full programs could be moved onto the keyboard that where
  • 1. Tiny, tiny, TINY!
    2. Non-ergonomic. And never will be.
    3. Very limited displaying abilities.
    4. Tactile keys not actually morphing at all!

    I’ll wait until I can buy a surface as big as a full keyboard, with morphing tactile keys, and a full display surface beneath. For <$200.

    • by Rary ( 566291 )

      I’ll wait until I can buy a surface as big as a full keyboard, with morphing tactile keys, and a full display surface beneath.

      This is for mobile phones. You really want to carry a full-sized keyboard around with you everywhere you go?

  • a touch screen keyboard that can be programatically reconfigured. So they've invented what every smart phone has been using for years? Am I missing something, or is this the lamest thing to get excited about ever?
  • The PS3 Wireless Keypad [wikipedia.org] attachment does this. You can hit a button and use the key surface as a touchpad.

    Frankly, it's not that useful on the PS3. Even when web browsing, I mostly use the analog sticks to move things around. But it's cute for a while.

"Hey Ivan, check your six." -- Sidewinder missile jacket patch, showing a Sidewinder driving up the tail of a Russian Su-27