The Apple iPad keyboard offers a reasonably good touch-typing experience — if the tablet is resting on your lap or on a tablet at a 45 degree angle. But try entering text while you’re holding the tablet and you’ll be stuck trying to stretch your thumbs across the screen as if it were an enormous iPhone.
Microsoft Research is looking at another method for entering text on tablets. They’ve slapped together a tablet prototype with a full QWERTY keyboard placed on the back of the device. That way you can hold the tablet with both hands to look at the screen, and reach your fingers around the back to type.
After using the “RearType” system for about an hour, test subjects were able to type at about 15 words per minute. That’s pretty lousy by real-world standards, but it sounds like it’s something you could get used to over time. After all, touch typists don’t have to look down at the keyboard to enter text on a standard PC. Once you know where the keys are on the back of a tablet, there’s no reason you should have to see them to accurately enter text either.
The benefit of a RearType style system over a virtual on-screen keyboard is that you get tactile feedback as you type. On the other hand, it adds bulk to a tablet and it looks kind of ridiculous — although to be fair, we’re only looking at a prototype built for testing purposes here.
Still, if this kind of thing catches on, maybe people will stop complaining that Augen placed the Home, Menu, Back, and Search buttons for the GenTouch78 Android tablet on the back of the unit.