Microsoft RearType is something as irregular as a physical keyboard for tablets. To keep the tablet formfactor with one big touchscreen on the front, Microsoft has put the keys on the back of the unit. The result is a mixed blessing.
Microsoft has earlier pointed out that top priority is to get Windows 7 out on tablets and start catching up to Apple iPad. Information on one of the weirder design projects at the software giant, the R&D section calls it RearType.
Microsoft realizes there are limitations with the current touch technology, not the least when typing. It is trying to find a solutions for this while sticking to the tablet format. At Zdnet they have published a bunch of pictures that is said to depict an early [we sincerely hope so] prototype of Microsoft RearType where it has simply taken a regular QWERTY keyboard, split it in half and attached the keys to the back of the tablet. This is how the researchers James Scott and Shahram Izadi explain their project;
“Our goal is a system that provides the tactile feedback and familiarity of a regular keyboard without cluttering the front of the display, ameliorates the occlusion problem inherent in direct on-screen touch and pen input, does not use the valuable screen real-estate taken up by an on-screen keyboard, leverages users existing skills in touch-typing on a regular physical QWERTY keyboard, and allows for text entry in highly mobile usage scenarios.”
Even if the intention is noble the first prototype doesn’t seem to be a hit, neither aesthetically or functionally. Twelve test subjects could after 1 hour of practice type 15.1 words per minute, which is is really not any better than regular touch screen keyboards.
Microsoft RearType is still in the early development stage and it is far from certain that the technology will come to market, with these pictures we have a hard time seeing a commercially viable product coming from this, but we don’t mind being wrong here.