LAS VEGAS, CES 2013 – When Steve Jobs first unveiled the 9.7 inch iPad back in 2010, he made a specific point of telling how many endless hours, how many prototypes had been rejected determining the perfect size for an onscreen keyboard. 9.7 inches, he claimed, was the minimum device that you could accurately and comfortable type on. Any smaller tablet, he later elaborated, was a “tweener” you would need sandpaper to whittle down your fingers to type upon.
For Steve Isaac, CEO of Touchfire, those words are a challenge. If anything smaller than an iPad is a “tweener,” how can you enable a satisfactory typing experience on the 7.85 inch iPad mini? And Isaac thinks he’s got an answer.
The Touchfire has been around for a while, and its an intriguing solution to allow touch typing on the iPad. A dimpled rubber overlay that attaches by exploting Apple’s own built-in iPad magnets, the Touchfire works pretty well. It’s about as close to a touch typing experience you can get using the iPad’s virtual keyboard.
How do you take this approach to the iPad mini though? CEO Isaac gave us a look at his prototype solution, and it’s an intriguing concept.
The basic challenge is this: how do you shrink a full 9.7 inch keyboard into 7.85 inches? Isaac’s answer? There are some keys that you need to have full sized, like the ASDF JKL: keys. That’s where a touch typist rests his digits. Other fingers, though, you only approach at very specific angles. For example, a touch typist only ever approaches the letter Y from the lower right. That means that you can effectively halve the size of that key, as long as the half you keep is coming from the right.
Touchfire was insistent that this was all a prototype, and wouldn’t let us try it for ourselves or even put a date or price on the product, but the reasoning makes a certain degree of sense, and we’re charmed by Isaac’s fury that devices like the iPad are, in his opinion, degrading the worth of prose by indoctrinating people into believing that a mobile device can only be used to send a short, ill-formed thought, like a tweet or a Facebook status update. He’s wrong — I’d argue that the state of literacy and self-expression is at an all-time high thanks to mobile devices and social media — but still, the passion is appreciated, especially when its realized in a real product.
Certainly, Apple’s ignoring the words of its reality-distorting founder when it claims the iPad mini is a decent typing experience. But at least one company is trying to make his words a reality.