The Glass Keyboard
Published: 29 May 2009, 1PM PDT.
"Glass Keyboards" are touch-sensitive displays that show anything desired, and know when and where you tap them.
If an image of a keyboard pops up, it's a keyboard, and if an image of a trackpad appears, it's your mouse, too.
Modern aircraft use them extensively today, space ships have used use touch-sensitive glass control panels since the 1960s (at least on TV), and they're all over fast-food restaurants.
They are extremely tough, functional and practical: Apple iPods and iPhones use them.
I want a larger, smarter one to replace my computer keyboard.
Because they are so flexible compared to fixed mechanical keyboards, glass keyboards will let the users of future Macs get far more done faster than we can today.
Just as Apple introduced the first PC with a mouse, and the first PC with an optical mouse, I expect that the glass keyboard will be yet another life-changing innovation that the windows crowd will crudely copy years later.
Here are my plans for what they should do, and how they allow the personal computer to enter the next age, as Apple's iPod and iPhone have taken consumer electronics into their next generation.
A glass keyboard is just like a big, flat iPod Touch, but as big as a regular keyboard.
You type away on its backlit glass surface.
What it displays, and what it does, is controlled by the Mac operating system, which is designed around it.
While a desktop computer will have a separate glass keyboard, a laptop computer would be just one screen, with the keyboard popping up as it needs to or as you set it, even better than a big iPod Touch. (Of course Apple might make an all-in-one desktop with a display that curves down into a keyboard panel, too.)
Your mouse goes away, unless of course you still want to use it. The glass keyboard can be programmed for trackpads of any size and shape you desire, anywhere you desire.
Plugged into a primitive PC like a Dell, HP or Sony via USB, a glass keyboard will plug in and power itself just like any other keyboard. It simply shrugs, and throws up its own display of a conventional keyboard and mousepad. It will work just like any other old-fashioned mechanical keyboard by default.
Plugged into an Apple, the glass keyboard and Mac OS work together to give the user (and software writer) complete control over how, where and what the keyboard does.
For starters, it's easy to let you control the look, colors and placements of the keys, and the left- or right-side location of the mouse track pad. Want round keys, square keys, silly key cap fonts or colors? Easy, but that's not the point.
You want foreign character sets on the key caps? It's as trivial as selecting an option in the OS.
Are you suffering from macular degeneration or otherwise handicapped? No problem; you can make the keys as big and bold as you like.
You want to see the alternate characters you get as you hit OPT? Trivial and done in real-time.
How about hot keys for your most commonly used applications, strings of key commands, or even words or phrases you type often? How would you like it if they populated and updated themselves automatically?
What gets much cooler is that the Mac OS will take the menu bar from the top of the monitor, as it's been since the 1980s, and moves it instead to the top of the glass keyboard.
Now we no longer have to mouse up to the top of our monitor; we'll simply tap the top of our keyboard. Prefer it the old way? No problem; just drag it there.
Want programmable keys for professional applications like video and music editing? Forget the old paper templates or expensive colored keyboards: the software programs your glass keyboard on the fly.
Want to rearrange your own keyboard? No problem: just click, drag and resize anything any way you like.
You'll have the option of the iPod's and iPhone's magic on-the-fly typing correction/suggestion system, which will let most of us type three times faster. (Apple should add this to the regular OS and keyboards, too.)
Glass keyboards will be sold by the foot, depending on how much you want on them.
Do you want a pressure-sensitive piano keyboard to pop up? Easy. How about control surfaces for an audio mixer? Done. Want full-time sliders for picture controls and editing? Limited only by the programmers' imagination.
The days of mechanical tablets are dead. Glass keyboards will let you set aside whatever area you want to become your tablet.
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