Thursday, August 6, 2009

Neat idea: Press harder on your keyboard for different effects

There's a difference between a tap on the shoulder and a punch to the chest, so why not take the same approach to how you interact with your computer keyboard?
That's the idea behind a research project from Microsoft's hardware division: Instead of making a keyboard key press a binary operation, what if it reacted based on how hard you pushed it?
It's a tantalizing idea: Type harder and you could get capital letters instead of lowercase without the Shift key. Or you could type in a larger font the harder you push each button. These sound like almost goofy and impractical applications, but some ideas further along these lines have serious merit. As
demonstrated in this video, the Backspace key could be adapted to work differently based on how hard you tap it: Type lightly to delete a single character, or hit it hard to delete a word at a time.
There are also very interesting ramifications for helping users type more accurately. If you accidentally hit two keys at once while you're typing, you tend to hit the right key more strongly than the wrong one. Such a keyboard design, combined with a little software, could help your computer determine that you didn't really mean to type "comp[uter" -- much the way that intelligent error correction works in Word when you simply don't know how to spell what you're trying to say. The possibilities for gaming also seem boundless.
Microsoft is using the keyboard -- which exists as a prototype but not a commercial product -- as a tool for student developers to come up with applications on what to do with it. The
UIST 2009 Student Innovation Contest kicks off in a couple of weeks, with winning applications to be announced in October. Stay tuned. link...

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