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Microsoft RearType, 80s style tablet keyboard

reartypeMicrosoft RearType is something as irregular as a physical keyboard for tablets. To keep the tablet formfactor with one big touchscreen on the front, Microsoft has put the keys on the back of the unit. The result is a mixed blessing.

Microsoft has earlier pointed out that top priority is to get Windows 7 out on tablets and start catching up to Apple iPad. Information on one of the weirder design projects at the software giant, the R&D section calls it RearType.

Microsoft realizes there are limitations with the current touch technology, not the least when typing. It is trying to find a solutions for this while sticking to the tablet format. At Zdnet they have published a bunch of pictures that is said to depict an early [we sincerely hope so] prototype of Microsoft RearType where it has simply taken a regular QWERTY keyboard, split it in half and attached the keys to the back of the tablet. This is how the researchers James Scott and Shahram Izadi explain their project;

“Our goal is a system that provides the tactile feedback and familiarity of a regular keyboard without cluttering the front of the display, ameliorates the occlusion problem inherent in direct on-screen touch and pen input, does not use the valuable screen real-estate taken up by an on-screen keyboard, leverages users existing skills in touch-typing on a regular physical QWERTY keyboard, and allows for text entry in highly mobile usage scenarios.”

Even if the intention is noble the first prototype doesn't seem to be a hit, neither aesthetically or functionally. Twelve test subjects could after 1 hour of practice type 15.1 words per minute, which is is really not any better than regular touch screen keyboards.

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Microsoft RearType is still in the early development stage and it is far from certain that the technology will come to market, with these pictures we have a hard time seeing a commercially viable product coming from this, but we don't mind being wrong here.

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