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Three Smartwatches
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One Wearable to Rule Them All? Not likely.

This is actually one of the first articles I planned on writing when I started this blog, but I felt I needed to fill in some background first. While this article is my first article about wearables, it follows my articles The long goodbye to passwords and Who do you trust with your identity?, the reasons for which will become clear as you read below.

three smartwatches

Wearables is clearly an exploding category of products right now. Lots of money is being invested and lots of companies are springing up. I tried to look just at what companies I could find with Twitter accounts, and found over 100 companies. The technology, from sensors to screen quality to battery life have all converged at a ‘good enough’ level that has encourages lots of experimentation in this field. There are many types of wearables, but I think they can be roughly classified.

Classification

Let’s start by breaking up the very large and growing category of wearables into a few types. While you can further break down the differences, I break them up into three groups:

  1. The all-in-one
  2. The single-purpose
  3. The multi-position

The all-in-one is still emerging, but it generally takes the form of a watch, is referred to as a smartwatch, and eventually will cover a large range of functions including fitness, security, notifications and running apps. Right now the product attempting to sell into this category include the Samsung Gear 2, the Sony Smartwatch 2 SW2, the Motorola Moto 360, and the LG G Watch. Of course, Apple’s entry into this space with their expected ‘iWatch’ has been feeding the rumor mills for years.

The single-purpose includes fitness bands like the Fitbit Flex, Jawbone Up24, and the Nike Fuelband SE, as well as security wristband Nymi. These bands generally do one thing and try to do just that one thing really well.

The multi-position is a variation on the single-purpose. Generally it is still focused on one thing, usually fitness, but the multi-position wearables can be used in a variety of locations on your body to track things that the simpler single-purpose bands cannot. The best example of a multi-position wearable is the Moov, which can be worn in many places, and can be used for running, biking, swimming, etc. Other devices like the Sony Core or the Fitbit Force are moving in this direction, and I expect these and other companies will try to copy the Moov in the future. Multi-position wearables will always have a place complementing the all-in-one wearable, whereas the single-purpose wearable have a high likelihood of getting supplanted (except at the low end).

There are some devices that don’t quite fit into these categories. Some fitness trackers can also do notifications. Some wearables are looking to add health data collection to headphones.  There will always be some overlap between the categories, but I think in general they’re pretty solid.

The Three Factors

I would argue that there are three factors in the success of wearables. The first two apply to almost all wearables, and the third to the all-in-one category. These three factors are:

  1. Battery Life, Ease of Charging
  2. Style (i.e. do you want to wear it?)
  3. The three capabilities – notifications, health, and authentication/commerce

Battery Life and Charging

Let’s start with Battery life and charging. Any wearable, if the battery doesn’t last long enough or it a pain in the neck to charge, will find itself being left behind whenever the user forgets to charge it, which will be often. Even if it’s easy to charge, but the battery doesn’t last very long, the device won’t get used. There’s a reason Samsung is pitching that its new Gear 2 watch, which switched from Android to Tizen OS, has a three times longer battery life than the previous Galaxy Gear watch. If your watch dies when you need it, you’re never wearing it again.

Style

Casio Calculator Watch
Casio Calculator Watch

Style is something overlooked by some manufacturers. The new Pebble Steel was a response to people not wanting to wear a watch that looked like a toy all day. This is true of all wearables, but even more so for the all-in-one devices, since they generally replace a watch. Functionality is nice, but without style people are not going to wear a watch. If functionality trumped style there would be a lot more people wearing Casio calculator watches right, since calculators are useful? We don’t all walk around with calculator watches because in the end, form trumps function. Once there is form, style, let the companies compete for functions. The companies that don’t have form, won’t be able to compete in function.

If you take a look at who Apple VP Phil Schiller follows on Twitter, you’ll notice companies like Patek Phillipe, Panerai, and A. Lange & Söhne among the few accounts he follows. These are all high-end watch companies. No doubt Schiller enjoys quality watches. What would it take to get him to switch from wearing a Patek Phillipe to wearing an iWatch? Answering this question probably helps to figure out why Apple hired the former CEO of luxury brand Yves Saint Laurent last year, and more recently has been rumored to be trying to hire employees out of luxury Swiss watchmakers.

The Rufus Cuff
The Rufus Cuff

Part of style is size. While large watches might be fashionable for some, they’re not generally worn by the majority of people. As an extreme example, look at the Rufus Cuff which is currently finishing up a successful Indiegogo campaign. For the 700 or so people who bought them, the product dubbed a ‘wrist communicator’ instead of a wristwatch since calling it a watch was absurd even to them, there are some great features. I’m pretty much an alpha-geek, and I can’t imagine wearing this all the time (and I probably wouldn’t be able to anyways as it would be sitting on my desk charging).

In short, you have to want to wear your wearable device, and if you don’t think it fits with your personal style, you won’t be wearing it.

Notifications, Health, and Authentication

The most common wearables today are fitness bands like the Jawbone Up24, the Fitbit Flex, etc. These are mostly good at what they do, and some people don’t mind wearing them all the time, but the question is what if you also want the authentication features of the Nymi band? The notifications available on the Razor Nabu? How many of these bands can one be expected to wear at once? The answer for the great majority of people is only one. There is more room for wearables that one uses for specific activities, but there’s only room for one full-time wrist-worn wearable in my opinion.

This is why ‘smartwatches’ are moving to cover all three of these areas.

Notifications is what I consider the primary feature of current smartwatches. This will grow more sophisticated, as the notifications come from the device itself instead of from a connected smartphone. An always-on, location-aware, biometrical-linked device is incredibly useful for many reasons.

Health is a very complicated issue (look at the demise of Google Health), and as these health-tracking devices get more sophisticated, I expect that few companies will be able to master the space. Large companies entering the space will invest a huge amount of money hiring experts in a vast array of health and fitness-related fields. Large companies can also probably make a better argument for keeping your health data secure. I don’t think you want to find out your life insurance was rejected, or cost three times as much as it should, because a faulty sensor made it look like you had a heart murmur, and the insurance company used that to adjust your rate (or to reject you altogether). When you have a device strapped to your wrist 24 hours a day, extracting all kinds of health-related information from your body, you want to make sure that data is secure. I’m sure there will be some success from smaller companies in this area, but not every company that can produce the technology will be able to succeed in providing the proper analysis to you, or to insure that your data is safe from prying eyes.

While the Nymi may be the first authentication-oriented wearable, I don’t believe this kind of device can exist on its own. This is an important feature (see below) but it is not a standalone feature.

A Look at Authentication and Commerce

You might have noticed that among my list of all-in-one devices currently in the market, none actually has all of the capabilities I’ve suggested are required for such a device. For the most part these devices are currently extensions of smartphones and are focused on notifications from the phone. Health tracking features are slowly being merged into the devices as well. The devices are becoming more useful separate from a connected smartphone.

The piece that no one has added yet is the third authentication factor for commerce. With security disasters like heartbleed in the news, the need for truly secure commerce is more needed than ever. Two-factor authentication is great, but truly secure commerce, online or in physical stores, will only arrive when a device that you have authenticated as owned by you, can authenticate you are using it via biometrics. This sounds complicated, but will actually be seamless. Whenever you attempt to make a purchase, your watch will simply ask you to confirm it. In the background the payment service will check which device is linked to your account, send an authentication request, the device will do a biometric check, and then will prompt you to approve the specific purchase amount. Ideally the biometric check will not require any input (like a fingerprint) but could check automatically using a passive biometric feature such as cardiac rhythm.

As mentioned in my earlier article The Long Goodbye to Passwords, wearables will help bring in the era of three-factor authentication. The three factors are what-you-know (a password), what-you-have (your device), and who-you-are (a biometric sample). With a smartwatch two out of the three can be handled just by the fact that you’re wearing the device. Now for the price of entering a password, you have much more secure authentication. This opens up secure commerce, not only for online purchases but in retail stores as well. It’s not coincidence that PayPal has partnered with Samsung to offer secure payments using the fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy S5, nor that PayPal is working hard to get Apple as a partner as well. Whoever controls the authentication of consumers, can control the flow of their money as well. If Apple decides to go it alone and cut PayPal and credit card companies out of the picture, they could seriously shake up the payment industry.

The All-in-one emerges

This is where the all-in-one wearables will become popular. They will not only offer the conveniences of the currently existent devices, but will fold in health monitoring and allow secure commerce. The trick then will simply be to fulfill the other two factors I identified above – having good battery life and being something people will want to wear.

Good battery life will always be a challenge and I suspect this will be achieved through the creative use of alternate charging technologies. This could include things like kinetic charging (like a self-winding watch), solar charging, or even absorbing energy for the user’s body heat. Anything that adds to the charge of the battery life will be helpful.

Paneria Luminor Watch
Paneria Luminor Watch

Making the watch something people will want to wear means increased miniaturization. Of course style is a major factor in getting people to wear a device all the time, but without serious miniaturization you can’t have a very stylish watch. The problem many of the smart watches have today is that they’re absurdly large. Phil Schiller may follow Panerai (on Twitter), the luxury watch companies famous for making oversize watches, but most people wouldn’t wear such large watches even if they could afford them. The all-in-one needs to be small. That means the battery needs to be small. That means the battery has to be really efficient, or there needs to be some of the aforementioned charging technologies assisting to keep it charged.

Sure, there were people who bought Samsung Galaxy Gear watches. Just look on eBay and you can find hundreds of them. As these devices start to integrate health features, add authentication, and get small enough to encourage the average person to wear them, these devices will definitely hit the mainstream.

The all-in-one will not be the only game in town

The Dash
The Dash

While I do believe the all-in-one category will suck the oxygen out of the room for some of the fitness band companies, once they begin to integrate the same features, there will always be room for smaller more specialized wearables in specific categories. Lots of people don’t even wear watches today, so if they’re only interested in health features then a simple band on their wrist that cost $50 instead of $350 might seem ideal.

Multi-position devices like the Moov will also find a place. No one is going to put their smartwatch on their ankle when they go biking to calculate their cadence, or attach it to their golf club to analyze their swing. Products like the recently crowd-funded Dash, which offers fitness tracking and heart rate monitoring in a pair of wireless headphones, and can also be used as a bluetooth headset with your phone, will also find their place inasmuch as they replace existing devices that people already rely on (I personally wear a wireless headset and a heart-rate monitor when biking, and this could replace both and offer more features). Hopefully the companies that take the pole position in the development of health-related devices will open up their software to allow third-party devices to integrate their data into the user’s health stream.

AT&T Picturephone
AT&T Picturephone (Wikimedia Commons)

It’s a very interesting time in wearable technology. I feel like what we’re going to see in the next few years will make existing wearables and watches look like the AT&T Picturephone (from 1969) looks like today compared to Skype or FaceTime on your cell phone.

I’ve worn the same watch, more or less, for over twenty years. I’ve had other watches, but in the end my water-proof self-winding steel watch is the most practical watch I’ve ever worn. I’m hoping to see wearable devices that will be more useful, and more practical, soon hit the market. Now I just need to start factoring in wearable tech to my budget (wearing the same watch for twenty years has the added benefit of not spending money on upgrades).

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Advantage Pro Keyboard
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How I would re-design the Kinesis Advantage keyboard

Advantage Pro Keyboard
Kinesis Advantage Pro Keyboard

I’m a fan of the Kinesis Advantage keyboard, but it’s definitely long-in-the-tooth these days. The keyboard’s basic design reaches back over twenty years. The current USB version was introduced in 2002, and I don’t think there have been any significant changes in the past twelve years. I’ve seen rumors of a re-vamped version, but nothing has been released.

As you can tell from my previous posts, I believe there is a big difference between convenience features (such as wireless, backlit keys, etc.) and ergonomic features in keyboards. On the ergonomics side I don’t think Kinesis needs to make many changes to what is a popular design. There are some changes that could be made, such as perhaps splitting the left and right sides, or making the keyboard more adjustable. On the convenience side, however, I think there are a lot of changes Kinesis could make to the keyboard.

Here are my suggestions for the next generation of the Kinesis Advantage:

Cut the cord

When I originally wrote the heading above I was thinking wireless (see below) but the truth is, the one thing that has annoyed me the most over the years about the Advantage is that the USB cable is permanently connected to the keyboard. USB connectors can get damaged, sometimes people want shorter cords, etc. Kinesis should switch to using a USB port instead of a built-in cable, so users can choose the cord length they want to use, and can swap out damaged cables, etc.

Go wireless

Adding wireless to keyboards is relatively cheap and easy these days. Keyboards, being right in front of you on your desk, are an obviously annoying place to have to deal with cables. Add Bluetooth support and a battery that can be charged via USB. The battery should be removable, so it can be replaced as needed (no battery lasts forever).

Backlit keys

Kinesis may have helped create the Cherry MX Brown switches used in the Advantage, but they haven’t kept up with fact that many keyboards available today that use MX Browns also have LED backlighting. In an ideal world anyone using a keyboard would have proper lighting and wouldn’t need backlighting, but when you do need it, it’s nice to have. They should include a way to adjust the level of brightness of the LEDs as well.

Multi-touch touchpad

Take a look at the photo above. See that huge space between the key wells? It’s practically screaming for a touchpad. You could have a touchpad that is the same size as the one on a MacBook Pro in that space, without having to change the spacing of the keyboard at all (they would just need to move the status LEDs). Having it in the middle means it can be used both left-handed and right-handed people. It might not be the most ergonomic of choices, but it would be very useful for those who want it. It could be an optional feature. I’m open to other pointing devices, but this seems ideal from a space usage point of view, and multi-touch enables lots of useful features (like scrolling).

Space below the keyboard

When Kinesis originally designed the Advantage, it was probably used mostly with desktop computers. If people were using laptops, they were huge compared to the ones produced today. One of the things people notice about the Advantage is how tall it is compared to the average keyboard. Considering that the Advantage is wider than most notebook computers today, and that many notebooks like the MacBook Pro/Air are very very thin, it is probably possible to insert a space beneath the keyboard so it can be slid on top of a notebook, covering up the front section of the computer. This would allow the user to get closer to their screen if they want, reducing eye-strain. I haven’t opened up an Advantage to see how close the internals are to the bottom of the case, but I would think this could be done without major changes to the keyboard internals.

Built-in Web Server

The Advantage keyboard has another feature besides its ergonomics that set it apart over a decade ago when it was introduced – it supports programmable macros. Macros are more common these days to be sure, so Kinesis needs to step up its game here as well. One way to do that is to build in a web server, allowing users of the keyboard to connect to it from any device, regardless of platform, and configure the keyboard. This could allow re-mapping keys, seeing what macros are currently set, allowing one to create new macros, etc.

Conclusion

None of the changes are ground-breaking changes that will revolutionize the world of keyboards, but all together I think they will make for a much better product, and something much more enjoyable to use. The Advantage is a great keyboard, but it is definitely showing its age, and these changes would make it competitive with more modern keyboards not just because of its distinctive finger wells, but on every other metric as well.

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Tim Berners-Lee on what you write online

Imagine that everything you are typing is being read by the person you are applying to for your first job. Imagine that it’s all going to be seen by your parents and your grandparents and your grandchildren as well.
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web

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Samsung looking to Israeli tech to compete with Apple’s iBeacon

A couple of months ago I tweeted about an Israeli startup named ShopCloud that was showing off some fairly amazing retail technology:

The interesting thing to me was that it enabled much of the functionality of Apple’s iBeacon technology, without the need for physical iBeacons to be in place.

It seems this fact wasn’t lost on Samsung, which is now rumored to be trying to buy ShopCloud for about $80-90M. This was originally reported by the Israeli tech blog Geektime, and followed up by Israeli business news site Globes.

ShopCloud INSIDE
Navigating using ShopCloud’s INSIDE

This is particularly relevant if you look back at my post Who do you trust with your identity? which among other things looks at how Apple is using iBeacons to position itself as the preferred partner for mobile payments in the future. It’s a smart strategy, giving the retailers powerful technology to engage their customers, while at the same time giving Apple access to those same customers. Google and various other companies have tried to use NFC to similar effect, but these efforts have largely failed.

ShopCloud could allow Samsung, or whomever ends up purchasing it, an end-run around iBeacons and NFC. ShopCloud’s INSIDE technology allows malls and store to map everything to a 1-meter accuracy, and let the user navigate through the store or mall easily. Just like iBeacons, the app could make offers based on location. If the technology works as advertised, then the costs for deployment are significantly less expensive than deploying iBeacons, with many of the same benefits. This gives the owner of the technology a leg up on Apple’s iBeacon, and similar access to retailers.

I think Samsung would be very smart to buy ShopCloud, as the competition for who will control mobile payments is definitely heating up and in the next few years we’re going to see a handful of companies controlling those payments. Samsung definitely wants to be one of those companies. If a bidding war erupts over the company, I think you’ll see some of the other companies interesting in mobile payments also getting involved.

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Keyboard.io
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A few interesting keyboards, nearly in existence…

My last post, Why haven’t there been any keyboard innovations in decades?, got some interesting responses.

A couple of people said I was ignoring much of the progress in the past decade, citing lots of features added to keyboards like backlit keys, keys with displays built in, wireless, etc. These are all nice features, but they’re convenience features. None of those features make typing more comfortable, or reduce repetitive stress injuries. Features that do those things are ergonomic features, and were the focus of my article.

A few people said standard keyboards were just fine, so no innovation was needed. I suspect those people are still in their twenties, and haven’t realized the effect of typing on their hands yet. Stay with your straight keyboard with membrane switches and then come back and tell us in a few years which ergonomic keyboard you’ve switched to…

ErgoDox

ErgoDox Keyboard
ErgoDox Keyboard (Deskthority Wiki)

Someone also pointed out that I left out the enthusiast community, pointing out the ErgoDox keyboard and its distribution through MassDrop as an example. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the design work done by individuals and collectively through projects like the ErgoDox. However, when the easiest way to buy a product is to order it in a bundle of electronic parts that require soldering to put together, it’s not a product that most people can use. Hopefully someone will pick up the design and start mass manufacturing the keyboard, bringing down the cost, offering support, etc. making it available to a broader market.

Even so, there is nothing particularly innovative in the design, other than that the design and firmware are all open source and freely available. There are already two part keyboards, the thumb keys layout which looks interesting is almost exactly the same as the Kinesis Advantage keyboard, etc. I like the design, and it’s fairly compact, but personally I’d want one built by a company that would build it in a factory and offer support.

Keyboardio

Keyboard.io
Keyboard.io (Blog)

One hobby project which is trying to make the leap to manufactured product is Keyboardio. It started out as a project done in someone’s attic, and is now incorporated and in an incubator in San Francisco. You can see a detailed look at the various prototypes that lead up to the current design on the creator’s personal blog. This is a great example of enthusiast efforts that have the potential to make it into the market. I expect there will be a crowd-funding campaign for this keyboard soon. The design is really nice, although I don’t know what the final material will be for the case. Presumably it will be some form of plastic. If they do a crowd-funding campaign, perhaps wood will be a different tier in the campaign.

The thumb keys design is a little different than I’ve seen before, although I wonder how well that design has been tested. From an ergonomic point of view, the design is somewhat similar to the TEK keyboard (compact design without number pad, non-staggered keys angled toward each hand, space for wrists, etc.).

TREWGrip

TREWGrip Keyboard
Rear of the TREWGrip

Another interesting project is the TREWGrip. The TREWGrip is a mobile keyboard, intended to be used with mobile phones and tablets, that allows you to retain your QWERTY muscle-memory, but just shift your hands to keys behind the device. The keyboard also contains a gyroscope, allowing it to be used as an air mouse. On the front of the keyboard, you can mount your phone or tablet, and a key map is present that allows each key to light up when you press it on the reverse side.

Back in August TREWGrip launched a Kickstarter campaign, but didn’t reach its goal. However, the company was showing off its keyboard at CES in January, and they were projecting a launch sometime in the second half of 2014. The company wants to target niches like the healthcare industry, allowing doctors to take notes on their mobile device by touch-typing on the rear of their keyboard, so they can keep eye contact with patients, and don’t need to go to a computer to enter the information.

The idea of rear-typing isn’t entirely new – there was the Grippity keyboard under development back in 2008 and research from Microsoft from 2010 – but this might be the first consumer product to make it to market. From an ergonomics point of view, it’s hard to judge this without using it. It is a split keyboard, and your hands might be more naturally positioned than with some keyboards. Your hands are not propped up on a desk, which might be an advantage, although having to hold it all the time could work against it. Interestingly, at CES they were showing a version with mechanical keys. If they are targeting healthcare, however, I suspect they will stick with silicon keys that can be cleaned simply, at least for that market. The price is expected to be somewhere around $250 when it is released.

King’s Assembly

King's Assembly Prototype
King’s Assembly Prototype

There’s another keyboard that is currently in a Kickstarter campaign – King’s Assembly. Don’t ask me what the name means (it’s a gaming reference). It’s actually a combination keyboard/mouse/joystick, geared towards the gaming community. It is the first keyboard I have seen that the user can actually move on the desk to use as a mouse. Plenty of keyboards have come with built-in trackballs, trackpads, etc. but I’ve never seen one that moves itself. For gaming this seems like a very useful feature, although for productivity use it remains to be seen if it will be useful or will get in the way.

The general design is not so different from an earlier design that made it to Kickstarter, but was not funded, called Talons. Like King’s Assembly, Talons was geared towards gamers. It was also a split keyboard with keys in a very similar position. Unlike the King’s Assembly, the Talons halves didn’t work as a mouse, although they did have a trackball that could be used as a mouse (more or less where the joystick is located in the King’s Assembly).

In contrast to Talons, however, King’s Assembly has already blown past its initial funding goal, and several stretch goals. There are a few interesting things about the campaign. On the one hand, I’m cautious that the small gaps ($25K) between each of the stretch goals will actually be enough to fund each of them. I’m also cautious about what seems like a very aggressive design and production schedule. Being April now, and the design unfinished, it seems highly suspect to me that the ‘pioneer’ level contributors will receive their keyboards on time in July. On the other hand, I’m very impressed at the interaction between contributors and the company in the comments, where the company has been addressing highly technical questions and adapting their product to the needs and desires of their contributors. Some of the stretch goals were formulated through this interaction, and you can follow the company’s changes, such as using Cherry MX switches instead of the Cherry ML switches used in the original prototype. You can tell from the discussion that the company developing the King’s Assembly really understands the issues important to keyboard users, knows the ergonomic and gaming keyboard spaces, and is using that knowledge to develop something that is both new, but also takes into consideration what has worked in the past.

King's Assembly Prototype Key Design
King’s Assembly Prototype Key Design

From an ergonomic point of view, the King’s Assembly is still a bit in flux. As mentioned the key switches have changed since the beginning of the Kickstarter campaign. The good thing there is that with the MX switches, the company is offering to allow each customer to choose which color MX switch they want to use in their device. This is a level of customization that is nice to have, since different people like different switches (clicky vs. non-clicky, tactile vs. non-tactile, level of noise, amount of pressure needed to activate, etc.). Each keyboard half will also have adjustable palm rests. A change to a Maltron/Kinesis-style concave key placement is being planned as well (it is part of a stretch goal they should reach in the next day or so). What effect having the keyboard halves move will have on comfort remains to be seen. If you are worrying about moving the mouse when typing and are actively trying to keep the halves still, that could have an negative effect.

Overall, the King’s Assembly is a really interesting example of working with the community to guide your efforts, but still developing it with a professional team. Their Kickstarter campaign is a kind of model of interacting with customers, but of course it remains to be seen if they can deliver on their promises. Hardware Kickstarter-campaigns don’t have the best track record on delivering on time. Some don’t deliver at all (for example this multi-touch keyboard and mouse that tripled its funding goal and still never delivered). Let’s hope King’s Assembly delivers, even if not completely on time.

Some final thoughts

None of the above keyboards are available as commercial products yet. The story behind each keyboard is unique, but what is interesting is how single engineers, or small groups of engineers, have been able to develop new keyboard designs and promote them even before manufacturing them. This kind of promotion, and being able to crowd-fund development based on it, is something that never existed in past decades. Getting validation for one’s designs before beginning manufacturing is an amazing thing, and I’m glad it had spurred some engineers to come up with new and interesting keyboard designs. Hopefully the above designs are just the beginning of a new era of keyboard design.

I’ve come across rumors of a new Kinesis Advantage model that was forthcoming. Of course, I ran into those rumors in past years as well. I wouldn’t expect Kinesis to radically change the ergonomics of the Advantage, but if they did release a new model, one thing they could do is implement some of the convenience features that users have come to expect in keyboards in recent years – features like backlit keys, wireless connectivity, and at the very least a detachable USB cable. Adding some kind of mouse functionality, even a multi-touch touchpad in the middle, would be very useful.

Some of the Advantage Pro’s features are being implemented in keyboards like the King’s Assembly, like driverless-macros and the concave key wells. If Solid Art Labs, the company behind King’s Assembly, can implement all the features of the Advantage Pro keyboard, and include more features like the convenience features mentioned, as well as the mouse and joystick functionality, then presumably they could come out with a keyboard to directly compete with the Advantage Pro as well. The Advantage Pro costs $359. The King’s Assembly is currently going for $200 on Kickstarter, although will probably be closer to $300 when it hits retail. Cut out the mouse functionality as an option and it could probably be cheaper. Kinesis will need to modernize their keyboards, and come up with a good strategy should they suddenly have a direct competitor.

So to answer my somewhat cynical question that titled my last post, perhaps the costs of innovating new products was too high, and now that those costs have come down we’re going to start seeing more and more interesting keyboard designs. I certainly hope so. At the very least, these newcomers should wake up the existing vendors and get them to start updating keyboards that haven’t changed since some startup founders today were in diapers.

If you’re interested in keyboards, there are several enthusiast forums, including Deskthority, geekhack, and /r/MechanicalKeyboards.

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Sue Gardner on writing on mobile phones

I am very aware of the fact that it’s highly unlikely anyone will write an article via their mobile phone. I’ve done it, but it’s painful. And it’s not just about the small keyboard and the small screen – though that’s awful. It’s the emotional experience of writing an article.
Sue Gardner, journalist and Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation

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