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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Screen-top' iPad keyboard takes typing old-school



By John Cook, GeekWire

The iPad is great for many things — watching movies, reading magazines or playing games. But when it comes to typing, the onscreen keyboard leaves something to be desired.

Engineers Steven Isaac and Brad Melmon are looking to solve that problem withTouchFire, a lightweight, silicone rubber keypad that overlays the iPad’s touchscreen. The idea is to provide typists with the same tactile feel of typing on a laptop or desktop computer — letting them simply enter text without the need to look directly at the screen.

The TouchFire device is slated to ship in December, Isaac said. It’s currently available for preorder via the KickStarter funding site, for a pledge of $45 or more to the company. The Seattle-area startup is looking to raise $10,000 through KickStarter.

Isaac has been tinkering with tablet computers since the early days. He was one of the first employees at GO Corp., an early entrant in the tablet market that crashed in the mid-1990s. He also worked on Microsoft’s Windows CE mobile operating system.

When the iPad came out, Isaac said he was amazed with nearly every aspect of the device, except for the keypad.

"Typing on the iPad was certainly much better than anything that had come before, but it still wasn’t great," Isaac tells GeekWire. "But I wanted typing to be great, so I could use my iPad for everything. So I started thinking about a way to add the missing tactile features needed to have a true high performance typing experience on the iPad."

He started prototyping concepts, which he said proved challenging because he's "basically a software guy." After the initial concepts penciled out, Isaac partnered with Melmon to come up with a patent-pending design.

"We needed to provide the right sort of force resistance for typing to feel really good, and at the same time make the device be thin, lightweight and flexible enough to basically disappear in the cover when not in use," Isaac explained. "Brad had an amazing conceptual breakthrough that allowed us to meet all of these requirements, and TouchFire is the result."