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?

The blogosphere is all about hype, and the Touchfire concept caught the imagination of Cnet, Engadget, Mashable, TechCrunch, and other populist tech blogs last June when the project was announced and again in the fall when a few prototypes were made available. It combined two sexy concepts: the iPad and crowd-funding, where ordinary people can help finance a startup company. (Kickstarter is the best known of the services that manage the money for such investments.)

As of today, the crowd-funded Touchfire is an actual product you can actually buy, not a concept or prototype for bloggers to briefly fall in love with as they chase the next new thing. But now that it's real, would you actually want the $50 Touchfire?

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Maybe, maybe not. The Touchfire is a silicone membrane overlay that attaches magnetically to your iPad's screen, where the onscreen keyboard appears. The idea, of course, is to add tactile feedback to the glass surface you tap when you type on the iPad's screen. You can also use supplied stick-on posts to better anchor the Touchfire to the screen; they stick outside the visible display, so they don't interfere with any gestures you may make when not typing.

It's an awkward design, prone to shift and come off. But the Touchfire overlay is also easy to readjust when you are typing, so that's not a fatal flaw. There's also a complex method of affixing the Touchfire to your Smart Cover so it folds out of the way when not needed and is thus less likely to be left behind accidentally (for example, if you take it off the screen and set it aside).

To me, typing on the Touchfire was, well, icky. The bubble-wrap-like surface for each key was unpleasant to type on. A simpler, lower-profile design would feel better. Plus, there are no indicators for the home row keys (F and J) of a regular keyboard; even though you can feel that you're tapping a key, you can't tell which one without looking. It's easy to drift off, just like if you were not using the overlap and instead tapping directly on the screen.

I've never been a touch-typist -- I missed that class in junior high school -- so I look at the keyboard (on an iPad or computer) while typing, and the audio feedback is enough for me to know I've tapped a key. Plus, as my editors know, accuracy is not a forte of mine!

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