back to article Designer punts ultimate customisable keyboard

If we wrote stories for every concept design that crossed our desks, we wouldn't have time to bring you much else. Some designs are worth a mention, though, and this idea of a fully customisable keyboard certainly raises a few eyebrows. The Keyless Lifebook concept, designed by American Laura Lahti, has been shortlisted from …


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  1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Looks like an intriguing idea

    but can it blow and suck like in the Apple patent?

    do you then get customisable blow and suck??

    sorry, I will get my coat

  2. Cameron Colley


    I have found that not being able to type as quickly and consistently on an "ergonomic keyboard" has actually cut the pain I feel due to typing all day -- leading me to think that the bad habits I learned making me reach for keys with the wrong finger are a good thing and giving my hands a break (learned to use a computer years ago but never took to touch typing due to crap coordination). Making a keyboard which requires only minimal, short, movements onto a hard surface sounds bad to me.

    1. Ammaross Danan


      This keyboard isn't being pitched as ergonomic (thankfully, because it's not). Having no physical buttons to feel and press is actually worse, from an ergo standpoint, than a 'real' keyboard. This issue came up with the infrared, projected keyboards.

      1. Cameron Colley

        Erm, did you see the pictures?

        It is being pitched as having "an ergonomic layout". Which means less finger movement into a hard surface. My point being that more finger movement onto real buttons seems to have saved my fingers and tendons from aches.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    One word....


    1. Aaron Em

      One word...


      Think it'd be great to have a keyboard without tactile feedback, or even any way of telling with your fingers where the key boundaries are? Go try to write a term paper on your iPad, then come back and talk to me. No rush, I'll wait -- you'll probably be a while...

      1. Martin Gregorie

        Yep - seriously bad idea

        Many years back I remember trying a capacitative printed-on-plastic keyboard. It worked well, not missing any 'key depressions', but even with the optional key-click noise turned on the effect was still dead, just like drumming your fingers on a table. The lack of any tactile feedback was, IMO a major usability problem and one that being able to put the keys where you want them would not overcome.

        Its no accident that most people who have used them regard the big old clacky IBM full keyboards from the PC-AT/PC-XT era as among the best ever made and,in the calculator world, the keys on the older HP calculators (HP-35 through HP-28C anyway) as among the best ever made. Both the IBM and HP keys had a positive 'click' feel to depressing a key that told you immediately if you'd typed something or merely brushed the key.

        IMO unless the new customizable keyboard has a haptic surface that lets it reliably duplicate that tactile 'click' feel it will remain nothing more than some designer's useless idea.

    2. Robert E A Harvey


      The late lamented PCW magazine some 20 years ago postulated a computer for the millenium which was quite like an ipad, except the touch screen would have "negative rheaology" surfaces to provide tactile feedback. And you would be able to fold it in half to pocket it.

      They didn't do a bad job of precticting things, even if it has take 10 years longer. Perhaps "negative rheaology" might come along soon too.

  4. The Mole

    Health affects

    I'd be concerned at the health affects on a persons finger joints if they spend the day (touch) typing against a solid surface with no give - the springyness and tactile feedback of keys makes a big difference in regulating the amount of force that actually get exerted back through the fingers.

    That said this keyboard could be perfect for gamers, or multi-linguists if you can save and switch between layouts at a whim - particularly if you can change the size of keys

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Sticky keys

    Does it umm, ease the problem of sticky keys after a session of umm, err, TF2?

    1. Marky W

      Yes, indeedy

      It's just like a halogen hob for its wipedownability.

      A quick buff and a wipe and you're done. And then you can clean the keyboard. Badabum, tish!

  6. Martin Lyne


    LCARS interface anyone? With some haptic feedback (and a pad that stops it vibrating through to other peoples desks) I would give this a go.

    I reckon a wireless option that comes with a wireless charging mat (so its generally wired/charging but movable and then runs on battery)

    If they could make it flexible screened and put relocatable inflatable bag within so you can create dips and bumps ala the Logitech Wave


  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hardly new...

    How is this new, it's a touchscreen keyboard with user configurable software?

    Also, the design fails on one small detail, other than the hunt and peck crowd, those with the smallest amount of typing skills tend to type without looking at the keyboard. Not going to work on a touch keyboard, especially one where the keys may be in some custom layout.

    1. Gordon 10


      You've totally missed the point.

      If someone reconfigures it then they will also set up a layout that they can also already touch type on or are willing to take the time to learn.

      For a trivial example applying a standard desktop layout to those annoying laptop layouts that put fn between alt and ctrl that completely screw up touch typers now.

  8. fLaMePrOoF
    Thumb Down

    Not really...

    After typing on an iPad for some time it's apparent that this wuld lead to increased strain in the neck and wrists due to the lack of actual keys causing users to 'hover' over the device more.

    Perhaps if it included a good palm rest and maybe some sort of physical feedback (such as Apple's recent 'suck n blow' keyboard patent?) But I'm sceptical that this concept could be made comfortable or practical for every day use.

  9. Aaron Em

    Wait a minute, wait a minute

    I'm sure the author didn't get a kickback for helping this dipshit designer pad his portfolio, so why have we had our time wasted with this in the first place? It's not new and it's not clever, and there's certainly no shortage of more worthy things at which to poke fun. (Besides which, making fun of the colored-pencil brigade is like making fun of those kids who have to wear football helmet liners wherever they go -- it lacks form and it's just not on.)

    1. Elmer Phud

      Not a bad idea at all.

      a cusomisable keyboard that changes depending on what main application you are running sounds pretty good.

      Video editing? big coloured buttons with all the right labels on them. Same for DJ's, music recording, painting, lighting desk - the sort of things that don't need a qwerty keyboard and frequently are in a dedicated box of thier own. Cross between a touchscreen and a keyboard and a control pad.

      Computers are used for a lot of things these days - sometimes a qwerty board can be a right pain.

      1. Aaron Em

        So what you're saying, then... that this keyboard would be good at a lot of things, with which I don't disagree -- it's just that none of them is actually, you know, *being a keyboard*, which is something of a sine qua non in this case since a keyboard is primarily what it is meant to be.

        I wouldn't mind at all having a device like this as a peripheral to place alongside my keyboard, but as the primary input device for a computer it is not even good enough to be called 'pants'.

  10. Anonymous Coward


    Still doesn't beat the maximus.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      The problem with the Optimus

      Is that you can't switch layouts between say, UK and US, due to the keys being positioned differently, having different shapes, and there being more keys on the UK keyboard. It is also supposedly a shocker to type on. Still very useful in some contexts if set up correctly, being able to press Alt Gr and seeing what accents are generated by what keys would be very useful.

      No tactile feedback of course on the keyboard in the article makes the whole thing pointless. I can type way faster on a blackberry keyboard than I can on an iPad keyboard!

    2. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

      better still, the Tactus

      Is anyone else thinking Star Trek consoles ?

    3. Dahak


      or this

  11. david 63

    Could see this being good...

    ...with a quick switch to programmable code snippets, shortcuts or boiler plate text.

    For everyday typing, give me moving keys every time. After 3 months practice I'm about half as fast with Swype as I am on a proper keyboard.

    Presumably this would also be sealed so less prone to damage from biscweet crumbs and other foreign materials.

  12. Clive Galway
    Thumb Down

    Physical version already exists

    The Ergodex DX1.

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      Always fancied one of those

      -- but I don't suppose it is as good an idea as it sounds

    2. Andy 73 Silver badge

      Re: Physical version already exists

      It existed 30 years ago in the form of a ZX81, a sheet of clear acrylic and a dry-wipe pen.

      The problem then, as of now, was the inability to locate keys without looking. The ZX81 keyboard was not considered to be a great ergonomic success - though it was a smart design given the limitations of the technology at the time.

    3. Piro Silver badge

      Yeah, this is what I thought of immediately..

      I'd much rather have the Ergodex since it offers actual feedback...

    4. OkKTY8KK5U

      No, it doesn't.

      Although I wish it did. What you've linked to is pretty neat, but by the looks of it, you can't stuff more than about 50 keys onto it, and they're numbered. That's good for what amounts to a custom box of push-the-button macros. It does not look like you can turn it into anything resembling a keyboard with a full complement of alphabetical keys.

      <whine>But while we're at it, I want to know why the heck things like this exist, while nobody has a proper buckling-spring version of an otherwise bog-standard Microsoft Natural Keyboard. We know there'd be a market for such a thing and it couldn't possibly be hard to design.</whine>

    5. tom 24

      Darn you for beating me to it!

      However, the Ergodex is missing the "feature" of allowing you to put a trackpad anywhere you want on the board. (Since I hate trackpads, I can't help thinking of a giant trackpad as an antifeature but...)

      As all of the pictures feature "laptop" style computers, I find myself imagining the ability to put short-throw keys with edges that grab my fingertips in any layout I can imagine. Joy!

  13. dssf

    If this becomes ubiquitous, i forsee a minor problem, but easy to correct...

    If such keyboards become popular, users will want a roaming profile of sorts. I STRONGLY favor a limited microsd or RFID-like tagger one could wand over the keyboard. This means no one would be forced to use roaming profiles from operating systems. One could just preconfigure one's own favored keys arrangement or arrangements to suit tasks and then use any publicly-available keyboard of this type. It would be demoralizing if this nice technology got shotgun-wedded to any specific OS and then the public steered to a/that "popular" OS. I would prefer a disposable, wandable chip than putting the info in my phone, for obvious reasons.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I can see...

    ... non-key thingies like sliders and such. There are a couple applications where it'd be quite useful. Buuut... for actual run-of-the-mill lots-of-tyoping* work? I normally find the keys by feel alone, so for regular work this isn't useful, at least not to touch-typists.

    Of course, laptop makers only cater to hunt-and-peckers or they'd've figured out long ago that there's only so many useless extra keys you can squeeze in before the thing becomes entirely useless to a touch-typist, but that doesn't deter them. So that's alright then, carry on.

    * Yes, deliberate. Why do you ask?

  15. Nexox Enigma


    """Talking of her design, Lahti said "the strain of typing will disappear with this ergonomic, customisable keyboard."""

    There is absolutely nothing ergonomic about whanging your finger tips over and over on a piece of glass. My wrists start to hurt after prolonged typing on a cheap membrane-switch keyboard (Which is almost all desktop keyboards...) due to lack of tactile feedback. I tend to press the keys way too hard, since they just keep smooshing deeper into the keyboard, and I can't immediately tell that I've registered a key stroke.

    Plus, who needs letters on their keyboard? When you've got a real keyboard, many people can type just fine if it happens to be blank, but I doubt anyone could produce much useful text off a blank LCD deal...

  16. AlexH

    Laptop Musicians

    I can see this being incredibly useful for laptop musicians - kind of like buying a laptop with a built-in JazzMutant Lemur control surface.

    Not entirely convinced I'd use this in preference to a physical keyboard though.

  17. ArmanX

    I have no problem with typing on a touchscreen... except the touchscreen part.

    I don't care if my buttons "click" or "thump" or seem to do nothing at all, to be honest. What I do care about are two things:

    1) That I know where the keys are. If I'm not looking at the keyboard as I type, I should still be able to find "home row" easily, and when I hit another key, I should be able to feel that I hit a key, rather than a space between two keys, or the wrong key altogether. If I miss a key on a 'regular' keyboard, I can tell, because my finger hits the side of a key... not just more flat bit.

    2) That I can rest my hands. When I stop typing, all ten fingers are on the keyboard - not hovering over top, but actually resting on the keys. Even while typing, if I'm not using a hand, it goes back to 'home row' and sits on the keys. If nothing else, my thumb almost never leaves the space bar.

    If I can't feel the keys, I have to look at what my fingers are doing, which slows me down. I suppose I could live with that if I had to, but I'd rather not.

    However, if this is a true touch interface, then being able to tell the difference between "finger resting on key" and "finger pressing key" is fairly difficult. If they solved that one, then bravo, but somehow I doubt it. Without those two features, this is just another touchscreen.

  18. Matt 4


    being able to swap between various keyboard layouts visually would be nice.

    Also being able to swap it between keyboard mode and program interface mode would be rather swish.

    Not one for the printing pool though.

  19. mattrules161

    Not exactly new...

    Looks a lot like this...

  20. Natalie Gritpants


    My darling daughter has figured this keyboard out and all I have now is four giant keys: P, O, N and I. They cover everything including the "arrange" button and I can't get it back.

    Posted from my Iphone.

  21. Paul 87

    Not convinced

    Sure, nifty idea, but without a proper feedback from each key it's less than ideal.

    If it were me, I'd have stick on "keys" that can still register a contact with the touchpad underneath, don't have to be massive and if they're transparent you can still get the benefit of the customisation underneath.

  22. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    Ahh "designers"

    They're like modern artists but with technology.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Ultimate, schmultimate

    What ever happened to chording keyboards?! I had high hopes for the little gizmo from Twiddler. Got fairly good, but it was just a tad big for my hand. Still waiting for one that is adjustable.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    Left Handed...

    Fail for the Left handed example.. Surely a leftie wants the number keypad on the left and the arrow keys too... not just the touchpad...

    Although I'm no authority here as I'm a rightie...

  25. A J Stiles

    No thanks

    I had a ZX81 the first time around.

  26. Richard Jukes


    I like my keys to go clickity click. Tactile feedback rocks, touchscreens are poo. Smelly poo too!

  27. streeeeetch


    My first computer was a ZX81. I bought it from Boots for £120 with 16k (yes you did read that right...) of memory. You had to stab a flat surface to type in 1981.

    How things have moved forward in 30 years.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Nice to see somebody thinking of us lefties for a change !

  29. Andy Farley

    I think we should all be using

    chorded keyboards:

    How long would it take to train up I wonder.

  30. Pahhh

    Cool but wont work

    Looks really cool and it might be ideal for applications such as kiosk but I just dont see how it can replace a pressure sensitive keyboard.

    @ArmanX - you summarised the keyboard's failings perfectly.

  31. Graham Bartlett

    Customisable keyboard


    It's a touchscreen with a display that only shows a keyboard layout. Why not just buy a touchscreen instead and sell the fancy software separately? £300 for a 17" 1280x1024 touchscreen monitor in the last CPC catalogue.

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