Icky business: A silicone membrane for the iPad's glass keyboard

The crowd-funded Touchfire flexible keyboard was the darling of bloggers last year, but how does it hold up in the real world?

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However, my colleague Pete Babb does touch-type, looking at the monitor screen rather than the keyboard as he types, so I asked him to test out the Touchfire.

His take was more positive, though he wasn't a fan of the bubble wrap feel, either. He found he could type faster and more accurately when using the Touchfire than using just the onscreen keyboard -- but only to a point.

One problem with touch-typing on an iPad is that although its onscreen keyboard uses full-size keys, it is not the standard keyboard. Only the comma and period punctuation keys appear: No [, ], \, ;, ', or / keys, plus ! and ? are accessed by tapping Shift, then period and comma, respectively -- which gets you < and > on a standard keyboard. The Shift keys are also offset on the iPad's onscreen keyboard from their position on a regular keyboard.

As Pete touch-typed on the Touchfire, his motor memory of where the keys are on a standard keyboard caused lots of errors when trying to capitalize, use punctuation, or insert numerals and symbols (both of which are accessed via alternative keyboard layouts on the iPad). That's not the Touchfire's fault, but it does show to truly touch-type on the Touchfire, you need to relearn your touch-typing for the iPad. That's tough, especially if you also continue to use a standard keyboard on a computer.

Of course, that reality explains why there are a gazillion Bluetooth keyboards available for the iPad. I find I rarely use mine, even when I bring it with me -- I've become comfortable typing on the onscreen keyboard, thanks to my hunt-and-peck approach. Pete has also found that his friends who've bought Bluetooth keyboards for their iPads stopped using them fairly quickly -- the benefits don't offset the cost of simply adapting to the iPad's onscreen keyboard.

As a triumph of populist startups (that is, crowd-funding) over traditional companies, Touchfire is no shining star. Its product is awkward to use, and in some ways it creates a false promise to touch-typists who will discover it's not just the lack of tactile feedback that differentiates the iPad's onscreen keyboard; slapping an overlay on the iPad screen may not solve the problem they think they have. I suspect that most people who spend the $50 for the Touchfire will end up not using it for long.

Nonetheless, I applaud the attempt.

This article, "Icky business: A silicone membrane for the iPad's glass keyboard," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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