Microsoft Research reveals QWERTY keyboard called RearType

Microsoft may be set to completely redefine the mobile device keyboard experience.

This new concept, spotted by Mary Jo Foley, is called RearType and provides a three row QWERTY keyboard configuration on the rear of a tablet PC. The benefit of this configuration is that it allows users to get the physical sensation of touching keys just as they would on a Laptop or Desktop PC. This prevents the keyboard from taking up valuable touch screen real estate.

 RearType

This solution should allow for text-entry while walking as well (although that is not recommended). While this appears to be a great new solution for mobile computing, there are still some quirks to be worked out. They include the fact that there are currently no plans for commercial availability, and the keys can still be triggered when setting the device down (they need a lock down mechanism).

A potential solution for that problem may be to add a proximity sensor that will disable the keys upon setting the device down. With regard to typing speeds, Microsoft Research gave their prototypes for RearType to twelve individuals that are great at typing.

These skilled typists scored an average of 15 word-per-minute after training with the device for an hour. That puts the scores lower than those that can be achieved with a desktop keyboard and very close to those that can be achieved on a touch screen keyboard.

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52 Comments

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My first thought was covered by the summary...you cannot possibly type very fast with this, given that you pretty much have to apply enough force with both of your palms to *hold* the device, while moving your fingers to reach the individual keys.

I can definitely see the potential for having the entire thing slip out of your hand as you're trying to reach for the button that are farther away, if you have short fingers.

And yeah, as other have pointed out, if you're not a touch-typist, what are you going to do...flip the thing over at each keystroke? :-D

Very interesting concept. With some practice, I don't see why using this should be any harder than using a normal keyboard (assuming you touch type of course).

people seem to be having an issue with understanding why this looks ugly. its a prototype and built on a shoestring budget. now if they got the results they were looking for with this prototype, they will get more money to refine it, if not, then it will go back to the drawing board or die.

Things you should not ask on a date no. 384:

"So, do you like it from the front, or are you more a rear type?"

... just as bad a "squirting" XD

pcj said,
Uh, 15 wpm? That's like crazy slow.

One of them got 47wpm. This is all after only a short period of time with the device.

RuuddieBoy said,
And what if you want to put the device down on it's back to read stuff? The keys will be pressed all the time?

Only a prototype, that's probably the first issue they thought of.

Drunken Beard said,
How are you supposed to see what you are typing ? Unless it's intended exlusively for professional typists ...

You don't touch type?
I can do fairly well at typing without looking down at the keys a fair amount of the time.

Mr Spoon said,

You don't touch type?
I can do fairly well at typing without looking down at the keys a fair amount of the time.

I actually do, but I assume not everybody does. Plus when I'm typing I often find myself glimpsing at the keyboard for quick hints about my hand's relative positioning, as I noticed it increases my typing speed significantly. So yeah, I think that the keyboard being hidden will be a major drawback for a lot of people.

Drunken Beard said,

I actually do, but I assume not everybody does. Plus when I'm typing I often find myself glimpsing at the keyboard for quick hints about my hand's relative positioning, as I noticed it increases my typing speed significantly. So yeah, I think that the keyboard being hidden will be a major drawback for a lot of people.

I did a study on this back in University with my brother who was studying human behaviour, and it actuallys turns out that touch typists look down at their keyboards as a point of habit, however do not need to look at them, and can within a couple hours, learn to use their hands to give the keyboard a quick feel to determine their relative position.

JustinN said,

I did a study on this back in University with my brother who was studying human behaviour, and it actuallys turns out that touch typists look down at their keyboards as a point of habit, however do not need to look at them, and can within a couple hours, learn to use their hands to give the keyboard a quick feel to determine their relative position.

I've been typing for over half my life now and my desk has problems with the keyboard area rolling out (uneven I guess and gets stuck if opened very far). Haven't felt the need to look down at what I am typing for almost as long as I can remember. Only time is if I'm using special characters/number combos or trying to hit some obscure key that isn't used for everyday typing.

Really, I don't think it will catch on. On-screen keyboards are great but more focus should be on speech to text so the need for a keyboard is diminished.

As a concept though it would work. only issue i could see is that when placed on a flat surface a whole lot of buttons could be accidentally pressed which could be easily overcome by a keyboard lock button or inset keys.

Quapps said,
More focus should be on speech to text so the need for a keyboard is diminished.

Yeah, I've never liked that idea, especially since these devices are portable, meant to be used outside of your home. People look stupid enough on bluetooth headsets, imagine seeing people walking around talking at their laptop. Same reason video calls didn't take off imo, it looks weird.

Yeah, okay, from the photo it looks pretty kludgey, alright. Try to use a little imagination.

The device you see would never be produced in that form. I'm thinking it would be more like the low-profile keys I have on my laptop. They could be completely flush with the surrounding cabinet and still be good, solid physical keys.

And the fact that experienced typists could only manage 15 wam (yes, that's "words a minute", and is the appropriate metric) doesn't mean much if they've only been given an hour to get accustomed; I'd be more interested in how they'd do after a week.

Frankly, I think this is promising. I'd love to try it out.

This has got to be a photoshop fake as that is the most impractical looking thing I have ever seen. Storing it in a bag? Expect keys to pop off! Trying to set it on a desk or table? Watch it slide around due to key bound and lack of surface area contact!

Bah, I call BS.

Xionanx said,
This has got to be a photoshop fake as that is the most impractical looking thing I have ever seen. Storing it in a bag? Expect keys to pop off! Trying to set it on a desk or table? Watch it slide around due to key bound and lack of surface area contact!

Bah, I call BS.

It's a prototype. They can simply make keys flat like a laptop. Quit looking at the image and look at the big picture as a whole, a concept.

Xionanx said,
This has got to be a photoshop fake as that is the most impractical looking thing I have ever seen. Storing it in a bag? Expect keys to pop off! Trying to set it on a desk or table? Watch it slide around due to key bound and lack of surface area contact!

Bah, I call BS.


It's a prototype built to test the feasibility of text entry of this particular HCI method, not for storing in a bag, not for setting on a table, not for practical use.

leeisl said,

It's a prototype built to test the feasibility of text entry of this particular HCI method, not for storing in a bag, not for setting on a table, not for practical use.

It could still work.. perhaps a slidable cover? This is a prototype. Function, first, then they will figure out how to make it work.

leeisl said,

It's a prototype built to test the feasibility of text entry of this particular HCI method, not for storing in a bag, not for setting on a table, not for practical use.

You never know, as it's a prototype, it may be lacking hundreds of additional features. One way around the table issue could be to have some capasitive sensors on the keys, which detect if fingers are pressing the keys, or is they are being pressed down via another means. As for them sticking out, when I prototype electronics, I generally use whatever I have lying around to check if an idea can work before I attempt to streamline it to look good, so I imagine it's the same in this case as well.

Of course, it's a very early prototype, so don't comment on its looks.

I don't see it being particularly useable though. You can't move your fingers around the keys as you might do on a normal keyboard so your fingers would get tired pretty quickly.

The keyboard seems a little, er, short of a few keys I use on a pretty regular basis. Like say, the space bar or number keys.

Xepol said,
The keyboard seems a little, er, short of a few keys I use on a pretty regular basis. Like say, the space bar or number keys.

What could you possibly use a spacebar for?

Martin5000 said,

What could you possibly use a spacebar for?


I'dhearditmakesyourtextmorelegible.Didn'tseeanyimprovementsmyself.

Xepol said,
The keyboard seems a little, er, short of a few keys I use on a pretty regular basis. Like say, the space bar or number keys.

Maybe they put the space bar, um, where your thumbs are?

djdanster said,
I know it's still a prototype but it looks pretty ugly!

You haven't seen many prototypes in your life have you? They're all patchjobs to get the basic concept down first, then you work out some sorta nice looking design.

GP007 said,

You haven't seen many prototypes in your life have you? They're all patchjobs to get the basic concept down first, then you work out some sorta nice looking design.

STFU! Yes I have... I was just stating that it's ugly

djdanster said,

STFU! Yes I have... I was just stating that it's ugly

wow you really missed the point there buddy...lol

DKcomputers said,
its just a prototype, it will change completely but as you say ugh! lol

I don't care it's ugly -- I can't use Starcraft II for that!