Way back in 1985, there was an article in the Harvard Business Review that recognized the portable phone would have a huge impact on the way we work. They noted that your office is where you are. They were just thinking about the phone, but now we have a whole computer in our smartphones; the technology has gotten so small that your office isn't just where you are, it's in your pants.
Except we're not quite there yet; you can't touch-type on a screen, and no matter how good voice recognition or predictive software gets, the traditional keyboard seems like it's going to be around for a while.
I'm writing this post on my iPhone, using a Bluetooth external folding keyboard. It's not the first folding keyboard I've owned, and it's not the best, but I keep trying to see how much of my life I can do from a little phone anywhere instead of using my bigger MacBook. I dream of being able to sit at a conference or do an interview without having to drag my laptop or even my iPad with me — essentially, to have my office in my pants. (Yes, that's a theme with me.)
I tried to do this years ago, back in 2000. I had a Handspring, a sort of Palm Pilot clone, with a special plug-in folding keyboard that had a touch and feel as good as any desktop keyboard I have used. Then smartphones came on the scene, Handspring folded, and I moved on to a Treo and then a Blackberry and then finally to an iPhone 4S, where once again I wanted the perfect external, portable keyboard. The keyboard has to have decent spacing, and shaped keys are nice, too; the Verbatim keyboard I am typing on now isn't bad, and after a few paragraphs, I can get pretty fast on it. But it's much bigger than my iPhone and it won't fit in my pants.
Then in 2012, I invested in a Kickstarter for the Jorno folding keyboard; this little unit was going to be as small as my iPhone thanks to its double fold — except it was vaporware and never got out of the factory in China. I lost my money.
The TextBlade in action. (Photo: WayTools)
Now I'm all excited about the TextBlade, which looks like a real product, not a Kickstarter. Unlike any other I have seen, it doesn't fold, which adds all kinds of mechanical complexity; it has three pieces that are held together by magnets, I suspect much like the way a Mac power cord connects and transmits its electricity.
The TextBlade promises the real feel of a keyboard, with rounded keys (YES!) and a bit of travel. They say it will last a month on a charge of its lithium battery, which is tucked inside that big spacebar. It has four little computers built inside that control it all. The keys are a clever design, rocking on magnetic switches. The whole keyboard weighs 1.5 ounces and fits into a sleeve that acts as a stand for the iPhone or iPad.
So I break down and order it. Notwithstanding my Jorno experience, this might change everything in mobile typing. As soon as I do, I get buyer's remorse. The keyboard is not even being manufactured yet. Have I bought another vaporware keyboard?
Patent for touch-type keyboard (Photo: US Patent Office)
I doubt it. Doing a patent search, I find that Mark S. Knighton has been working on this for a long time, with a serious number of patents on the basic concept going back to 2003. His latest patent was issued on Nov. 24, 2014. The latest patent describes how the keys actually work, rocking in two or four directions to get different letters out of essentially one larger key. He clearly has experience making real stuff, inventing and selling one of the first 3D laser scanners. The press releases and the website look professional, and I'm tired of Kickstarter, thank you very much.
So it will be a couple of months before I can tell you if this is the greatest thing to hit mobile computing since the iPhone — but I'm hopeful.
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