Microsoft RearType Puts Keys on Back of Slates

Microsoft researchers are playing with the idea of putting full QWERTY keyboards on the back of slate devices. This particular Microsoft research team is exploring ways to improve text entry on devices that typically don’t have physical keyboards. In a research report, test subjects were able to learn how to type with RearType at an average of 15 WPM after one hour of training.

So why is Microsoft toying with the idea of slapping a keyboard on the back of slate devices?

Despite the increasing popularity of larger form factor mobiledevices such as Tablet PCs, Ultra-Mobile PCs (UMPCs), e-inkbased devices (e.g., Amazon’s Kindle), or the Apple iPad,enabling effective methods for text entry on these devices remainsa difficult problem. Techniques that utilize direct on-screen inputwith a pen or touch rarely approach the text entry speeds of aregular keyboard, and perhaps more importantly suffer from theproblem where the user’s hands significantly occlude screencontent, often requiring contortions of the hand and fingers toachieve a workable tradeoff between reading the screen andentering text. Regular physical keyboards obviously enablemuch faster entry speeds, but fitting them onto these devices whilemaintaining usability in mobile scenarios remains an industrialdesign challenge.

There are a handful of game-controller style keyboards that might have served as a better starting point than a full-sized QWERTY keyboard. One I tried out a few years ago is called AlphaGrips.

Mary Jo Foley has more details over at ZDNET and you can read the full research report from Microsoft here.