A Microsoft keyboard that is definitely not the one of my dreams

A prototype from Microsoft puts a full keyboard on the back of a tablet. Uh-oh.
Crosscut archive image.

The bottom view of a Microsoft Research version of a tablet computer with typing keys

A prototype from Microsoft puts a full keyboard on the back of a tablet. Uh-oh.

There'ꀙs a story from Microsoft Research that sent (bad) chills down my, er, fingers.

According to the Seattlepi.com, which reported the story, two Microsofties from the United Kingdom have developed a prototype keyboard to be placed on the back of a tablet. The keyboard is split, like some ergonomic keyboards with the standard qwerty key arrangement divided in two, so you can hold a tablet and have your fingers working even as you're holding onto it.

The Microsoft Research paper on the prototype cited the advantages of the unique design: "This frees up the front of the device, maximizing the use of the display for visual output, eliminating the need for an onscreen keyboard and the resulting hand occlusion, and providing tactile and multi-finger text entry."

Maybe it'ꀙs me, but I can see this adding to another level of raging carpal tunnel syndrome ... and worse. Holding a tablet is still an exercise in muscle retraining. There is more than a pound of tablet (at least with an Apple iPad) that has to be held and positioned in ways our hands and arms don'ꀙt find fully natural. We haven'ꀙt heard much about the effects on the human body of tablet-holding, but I expect we will.

And now a keyboard on the back of a tablet? Having your hands and fingers doing some repetitive action at what for many of us must be an unnatural angle? Shaking my head . . .

Maybe I'ꀙm severely prejudiced. I'ꀙve been a writer, PR professional, and journalist since the '60s, and to this day I still type with 2 fingers. Yes, 2 fingers, and at a rate fast enough for me to have survived deadline fever on daily newspapers. And I still get sore fingers, sore neck, sore wrists — you name it — from something that my muscles have done well for over four decades.

Once I tried changing my two-fingeredness. I bought a copy of 'ꀜMavis Bacon Teaches Typing,'ꀝ certainly one of the longest running and most esteemed typing programs around, because I knew my life would be enhanced by being able to use all 10 of my digits instead of a measly two. I did pretty well with two; what would 10 bring me? I savored the possibilities.

The results? My hands went into carpal hell. If my hands were drunks, it would have been the equivalent of a 10-day bender. Maybe if I had stayed with it, it might have changed, but trying to push all ten of my fingers into some wholly unfamiliar and, to me, unnatural position was not anything my hands appreciated.

The new new new tablet keyboard brings all of that back.

So I wish the back-of-the-tablet keyboard well. If it becomes productized, I hope Microsoft makes a gazillion on it. But I don'ꀙt think I'ꀙll be among the early adopters.


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