Will touch screens kill the keyboard?

Can innovative new touch screens replace the keyboard? Virtual keyboards, built into today's capacitive touch screens, could get a whole lot better as emerging technologies like haptic (tactile) feedback, and deformable surfaces that let you actually feel virtual keys on a touch screen, come online.

But will they ever truly be good enough to forgo that external, mechanical keyboard on your future iPad? Many readers who've commented on today's story, Will touch screens kill the keyboard?, think not.

Part of the answer lies in the fact that expectations about keyboard performance are generational. People just entering the business world today don't have an IBM Selectric as a frame of reference. Rather, they are used to communicating in terse sentences and have adapted to using cramped physical and virtual keyboards on mobile devices. To this generation, a keyboard is the chintzy $19 electromechanical device attached to a home PC on which they wrote occasional term papers. Most have never seen a typewriter. For them, a virtual keyboard may be seem fine for most situations.

But there's another point I didn't address in the story: While today keyboards are the primary method people use to interact with computing devices, that won't be the case in the future.

"Voice recognition technology is getting to the point where it will become mainstream," says Ken Bosley, software product manager for HP's Consumer Desktop Global Business Unit, which produces the TouchSmart PC. "That could change things with respect to input." Voice input is already replacing the keyboard for applications such as when people input a destination in the mobile version of Google Maps, he says.

Other alternative technologies are a bit more far out. "We've seen demonstrations of systems that let you use head motions to control a computer," Bosley says. Today that work is mostly focused on accommodating people with disabilities - and a head shake certainly can't replace a keyboard. But giving your computer the nod to take an action could become another common interaction method in the future.

"Ten or fifteen years down the road there will be a proliferation of ways to interact with computers," Bosley says. The keyboard and mouse, he says, will just be another method.

Note: I enjoy engaging in conversations with blog readers but it's difficult to keep track of ongoing threads from regular readers if everyone posts as "anonymous."  To keep the dialog going please consider taking a moment to enter a regular identity "handle" with your posts.  Keep the comments coming! --RLM

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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