Eben Eliason eben.eliason at gmail.com
Fri May 23 09:55:28 EDT 2008

On Fri, May 23, 2008 at 2:42 AM, Alex Belits <abelits at belits.com> wrote:
> Albert Cahalan wrote:
>>> I can think of a few ways to integrate a keyboard with this new design.
>>> But then we continue the huge production/logistical problem of
>>> generating keyboards (and spares keyboards) for each country.
>> For generating them, you could do something more like an ink-jet.
>> Then you don't have to retool the factory to change things.
>> Write a mirror image into the mold for durability.
>> A flex keyboard with hard keycaps would have been lovely to type on.
>> It can be done; you just need a hardness gradient like the squid:
>> http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/03/29/237206&from=rss
> It should be possible to make a touch-sensitive "keyboard/touchpad"
> layer that can be placed either on a screen or smooth plastic surface,
> then decide if the device is going to have that second screen.
> Regardless of that decision, it should be possible to provide separate
> keyboard mechanisms (XO-1-like, regular laptop scissor keys, "clicky"
> keys) that can cover the sensor for easier typing, and can be mounted
> over a touchscreen with some pins and slots, clamp in hinge, etc. If the
> keyboard mechanism breaks, it will be possible to remove it and continue
> typing directly on the sensor using printed or on-screen keyboard image
> until the replacement keyboard arrives. For some activities the keyboard
> can be removed or replaced with a special layout (piano keys, audio or
> video mixer or editor, vehicle-like controls).

This is very much along the lines of what I've been thinking.
Naturally, creating such a membrane which is both tactile enough to
cover the need while transparent enough to not obscure the display
beneath will pose a chellenge.  (Moreover, it needn't only be
transparent but also highly non-reflective, both so it's possible to
see the screen clearly beneath it at all, and so the transmissive
display mode can still function well.

This implementation actually has some interesting benefits.  As noted
above, there could actually be various types of overlays if necessary.
 Also, it might mean that the laptop will be appropriate for an even
younger audience, which doesn't need a keyboard at all.  The keyboard
might be something that children "graduate" to as they get older.
Finally, though they could be lost or ripped or any number of things,
they would also be extremely cheap and simple to replace.

It was noted by Morgan that there are also some much improved haptic
feedback systems in development these days.  I personally don't hold
out too much hope for something that that to provide a good solution
for us.  As it's new, it's likely to be expensive, and also power
drain, I'd imagine.  However, the biggest problem I see with various
haptic response mechanisms is that they only provide confirmation
feedback: "you did, in fact, press a button." (And, if you're lucky,
the localized method he described might be able to let you feel if you
were slightly off-center when pressing it).  However, none of them
(that I'm aware of) are capable of providing feedback before the
touch/press, which is the crucial moment at which one needs tactile
feedback to be sure one is pressing the correct key (and only that
key).  I think this is especially important while /learning/ to type,
and as such any form of advanced tactile feedback system probably
won't serve our target audience well.

Perhaps one day a touchscreen with really good pressure sensitivity
(1024+ levels) and a soft layer of some substance which hardens when
it receives localized electric current will provide a system which
allows one to actually feel the keys before, literally, pressing them.
 They would even "go soft" (drop the current) when pressed so that it
actually feels like ones finder has just depressed the virtual key.
Of course, I haven't even heard of anyone experimenting with such a
system, and I have no reason to believe it's even possible.  It'd be
darn nice, though.

- Eben

> --
> Alex
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