What’s a Keyboard?
Well, since Bill Gates was knee high to a microprocessor, computers and keyboards have been synonymous. We no longer teach “typing” or even “word processing”, we teach “keyboarding.” While the old QWERTY pad is not going away soon, several other ways of interacting with computers are quickly developing.
Most of us have been caught in “Voice Mail Hell” trying to communicate via phone with our bank or other large company. No longer must we “Press 2 to speak with a customer service associate” we can just say “2”. Voice recognition has come a long way. I can “tell” my cell phone to call home. Many high-end cars allow you to change radio stations and make other adjustments by voice.
A few weeks ago, Microsoft demonstrated a new concept in interacting with a computer. The device has no keyboard and looks like a high tech coffee table with the screen serving as the table top. The touch sensitive screen allows the user to manipulate virtual items. For example, the screen might display a pile of photographs just retrieved from a digital camera. Using your hands you can move them into piles or make each photo larger or smaller. Even the process of downloading the photos from the camera to the computer is simplified. You just place the camera on the “table” and the photos appear on the screen. Place them on the icon of the printer and they get printed.
One demonstration showed how one would order from Amazon.com. You select your books and place them in a virtual pile. The you place your credit card on the table top screen and using your hands push the pile on top of the credit card. The books are billed to the card and sent to a predetermined mailing address.
At one time many of these non-traditional ways of interacting with computers or other machines were thought to be only of interest to the physically challenged. For sure, text recognition and speech synthesis for a blind person is awesome. For a person with limited use of arms or legs, the ability to instruct, via voice commands, the TV to go on or the air conditioner to change temperature, provides tremendous benefit. But these technologies will continue to be part of everyday life and promise to make the venerable keyboard as archaic as IBM punch cards.