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Touchscreens won't kill the keyboard -- entirely, Microsoft researcher says

Mark Hachman | Aug. 30, 2013
If touchscreens eventually become the new normal, does this mean an end to legacy keyboards, as well as devices like the BlackBerry Q10?

People like eye tracking 
Wilson also revealed the results of research that Microsoft has done internally, where it provided a number of different means of turning off an on a light switch—using speech, touch, et cetera. (Microsoft used a "Wizard-of-Oz" approach, Wilson admitted, where users only thought they were using technology to switch the lights on and off. Instead, a tech behind the scenes did it manually.)

What users preferred, surprisingly, was to look at the light and then speak to it.

That sounds remarkably like Tobii, a small startup that illuminates your eye with infrared, tracking your gaze on a computer screen. It works remarkably well and, with a keyboard key remapped to simulate a left- or right-button press, the user never has to take his or hands off the keyboard. That, in turn, sounds a lot like the Kinect, which also illuminates a scene to track users.

Wilson said that Microsoft was familiar with the Tobii machines and, in fact, had several of them in its labs. But the Kinect doesn't offer enough resolution to offer the same gaze-tracking capability, he said.

Part of the problem, and the solution, lies in the context, Mark noted. When a user walks into a darkened room, one of the actions he or she is likely to take is to walk to a nearby light switch. And within the PC, a screen with two buttons drawn on it really implies only one of two choices, Wilson added.

Wilson also made an interesting point: an input device like a mouse or keyboard also has a "hidden" form of input: you can set it down, or not touch it, and nothing happens. The problem with devices like the Google Moto X or the Kinect sensor with the Xbox One, is that they're always vigilant.

"I think the challenges that those tools present are very different than what you are using today," Wilson said.

 

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