Although typing on tablets is certainly possible, anyone that spends more than a few minutes here and there tapping away at their device, is likely to prefer a real-world keyboard, as the feedback and nature of the switches is just more comfortable for typing. But the keyboard doesn’t enable easy touch interaction, because it literally sits between the user and the screen. Microsoft’s solution to this problem is a physical keyboard cover with a built in e-ink touchscreen.
This is a prototype currently being trialed by Microsoft’s Applied Sciences division, but in the demonstration video Microsoft released, it seems to work quite well. The e-ink display sits at the front/top of the keyboard, giving quick, one-button access to applications, many of which automatically refresh the display so that it houses a number of context sensitive commands.
While the size is rather small, the secondary display can also be used to complete other tasks, like answering an email during a conference call, or adding entries to a diary while watching a video on the main screen.
The reason Microsoft chose e-ink over a more traditional full-color display, is because this style of screen uses very little battery power, meaning it could be theoretically added to many keyboards without negatively impacting their life between charges significantly.
This does, however, mean it’s black and white, and the quality is far from the crisp lines and images that we’re used to on the high-resolution displays that come fitted in the latest generations of tablets and laptops.
Even if the panel itself isn’t the prettiest, the fact that it is touch sensitive means that users can utilise touch commands on their main display screen, whether it too is a touch screen or not. If it is, then users can control it without covering up what they’re pressing.
What kind of novel uses could you imagine for such a keyboard cover?