It's no secret that typing on a touchscreen display isn't the most friendly of input methods. I was a long-time BlackBerry fanatic and am a huge advocate of their keyboards. I found the learning curve when switching to their software counterparts on Android and iOS to be rather steep. Although I've finally come to accept software keyboards and their obvious faults, there are still several ways they can be improved upon. As more more brilliant minds attempt to resolve the outlying issues, the future of software keyboards becomes much more bright.
The first attempt at this was including haptic feedback – a slight vibration each time you hit a soft key. This, however, can cause a small amount of lag when typing quickly and it doesn't give the true gratification of pressing a physical button. Even with haptic feedback enabled, I find myself second-guessing my finger placement and still making numerous typing errors.
Research In Motion and KDDI attempted to build on the idea of tricking the mind with synthesized tactile feedback. RIM's idea was by making the entire touchscreen a button. A good start, but hardly the most efficient approach. KDDI's method was by pairing haptic feedback with a pressure sensor to give the impression that the display itself was “raised” where the finger touches. I can't really comment on it as the technology is still in the works, but those who have had some hands-on time with it were more than impressed.
Other companies have set out to resolve software keyboard woes with … well, simply better software. Popular keyboards like SwiftKey offers features like language learning from Twitter, Facebook, Gmail and SMS to “learn” the way you type. It predicts what you want to say based on how you have typed in the past and reduces overall taps needed, thus making text input less stressing. It has worked well for me, but I still find myself questioning the keyboard and its abilities. Swype, arguably the most loved software keyboard alternative, allows you to swipe your finger to each letter, rather than lifting your finger. The most recent breakthroughs in software text entry, however, come from BlindType which adjusts to the way you type on the fly and IBM's keyboard solution that puts users through rigorous test and produces a keyboard fit to the anatomy of the user's hand. There are hundreds of alternatives, all of which have their own benefits. Given some time to learn the different methods, there may be a software solution that fits your thumbs perfectly.
But there is one thing that all of these software keyboards still have in common: size. Smartphones come in all shapes and sizes and despite some being larger than others, a 4.3-inch display or smaller is uncomfortable to type on. Maybe the answer isn't altering the software or mimicking the tactile feedback of a physical keyboard, but projecting the keyboard and simply making it larger – a more ergonomic size.
An iPhone 5 concept video from design firm Aatma appeared on the web today debuts, among other far-fetched features, a laser projection keyboard. Prop the phone in landscape at an angle and enter a text field. When the software keyboard appears, a three-finger gesture from the top of the keyboard down, hides the on-screen one and projects a laser image keyboard. The projected keyboard is scalable, able to be rotated and most importantly, larger than two-inches across.
Of course, typing on a flat surface takes some getting use to, but I've grown comfortable with practice. I can easily input text quickly on the software keyboard on my Galaxy Tab 10.1 in landscape mode. I still run into a few hiccups here and there, but it's slowly becoming a welcomed form of input. I wouldn't want to write an email from the Tab, but I don't mind knocking out lengthy emails with it from time to time.
Physical keyboards for PCs are on their way out and capacitive keyboards are likely the way of the future. With no moving parts, no gaping holes for dust to seep into and backlit, they answer the most common problems with current physical keyboards. Similar in theory, a laser projection keyboard for your smartphone may seem far-fetched and it's realistically years ahead of its time. But this simple idea shows that the possibilities and capabilities of smartphones are endless. Onward and upward!
That said, having to crank up a projection keyboard has flaws of its own. You will need a flat surface that's large enough to type on, it's not ideal for a quick and simple text message and it's likely a battery suck.
What say you, nerds and nerdettes? Is projection laser keyboard the smartphone keyboard solution you've been looking for? It may come with a learning curve, but would it be worth it to never have to worry about too-small keyboards again? Or is it simply too much hassle?