Microsoft researchers are tinkering with what the company calls a “text input system for mobile devices such as Tablet PCs, using normal keyboards but on the reverse side of the device,” according to a white paper titled RearType: Text Entry Using Keys on the Back of a Device dated September 7-10 2010.
According to the researchers, the concept, called RearType, address two common problems with tablet and eReader text entry: pen and touch input is too slow, and the user’s hand blocks significant portions of the screen.
As a potential solution, the researchers halved and rotated a standard QWERTY keyboard. They then placed the two pieces on either side of a tablet prototype. Users were then given the devices loaded with visualization software, and after one hour of training, were typing a average of 15 words per minute, which the researchers claim is “not statistically different to text entry using a touchscreen keyboard.” A locking feature was put in place to prevent any unintended key presses when the device was set down.
At this point, RearType is just a research project and the paper’s authors make no claims the feature will soon appear on any device, though it is an intriguing response to a common problem.
Researchers have been working with rear device navigation since at least the advent of touch technology. User Interface experts at Synaptics unveiled a prototype smartphone with both a rear and front touchscreen at CES earlier this year.