Why are you there, silly Skeuomorph?
Have you ever noticed something expressed in modern technology that doesn’t seem right, as if it might be a relic of the past, and yet the meaning is completely lost? What will page turning in an app mean when paper books are more rare than disposable tablets?

Another less controversial example: you know those little horizontal lines under the F and J keys on a computer keyboard? In case you didn’t take a typing class in high school, these exist on physical keyboards to tell you (if you are a touch typist) you are resting at home position. Absent, you would need to look down, as you take breaks to think of what to write next. On an iPad screen they make no sense. To have them as digital ornamentation behind a polished, flat slice of Gorilla Glass, makes absolutely no sense. It isn’t even cute. Apple has these little skeuomorphs everywhere in their applications and OS. Sometimes they help, are fun (like page turning), and more often than not they make my eyes itch.

Now that is Fast!
How cool is the Touchfire? I really like it! I recently received my new light, transparent, whimsical keyboard that has been a story in the making for along while. I first learned (and posted) about this project while on Kickstarter back during Autodesk University 2011. Later in December, Steve Isaac (one of the two cofounders) demonstrated the prototype in my office. I was blown away.

This is the keyboard that iPad wishes it had shipped with. Yes, you can rest your fingers at home position. And no, you will not fire off random gibberish by doing so. The keys are specially designed to work on the capacitive touch screen of the iPad, and work so well – I have begun using only the iPad with my Touchfire for taking notes at meetings. I guess I’m not a perfect touch typist… however, there’s a typing tutorial on the website: www.Touchfire.com/start. I will improve.

The beginning of tactile computing
I’m certain this will be the spark that ignites more tactile computing with our mobile devices and look forward to things to come. What I’ve got now, is far and away better than a wireless or other keyboards that accompany a case. Those are usually sacrificing something and leave the experience as flat as glass. I am sure the recently announced Surface will be no different. The Touchfire is very different. I began composing this on my iPad using it moments after it arrived.

When unpacked, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it comes with a nicely compact hard case. Initially, the surface was a little bit tacky. However, this disappeared after just the press of each key a few times. Little bits of dust, joyriders if you will, were adhered to the surface which a quick rinse under water – the recommended way to clean – easily dispatched.

If your iPad goes to sleep, you can swipe right through the Touchfire with ease. Which means, you can also very easily swipe through to alternate keys. The only technique that I’ll mis is the ability to tap/slide, to quickly insert a capital letter or number. However, now after several paragraphs – already typing at a much faster and accurate rate – will barely miss that capability.

Caution: Heads will turn
When you first unfurl the keyboard and begin using it, people will stop and stare. This is perfectly normal. Then, people will ask to try it out. I tell them to get their own and keep typing. Then after about 30 seconds give them an opportunity to savor in the soft luxury of typing on a gel surface. It’s always fun to see their initial response. This is so much nicer on the fingertips and the reduced noise is welcome in the office. My old IBM-style mechanical keyboard is very jealous.

The Touchfire works best if you have an Apple cover – including the smart cover for iPad 2 or 3, or the original faux-suede iPad1 cover. The smart cover allows the keyboard to roll up and out of the way entirely. Regardless of iPad generation, you will have the ability to fold the keyboard back on itself, and it hangs out there at the bottom of the screen, awaiting redeployment. I do sometimes enjoy using my iPad sans cover, and this also works very well on the newer model iPads, due to the internal magnets of each device. With my original iPad, it just means that I need to swipe across it’s ‘chin’ and type away – while I do need to keep the device relatively flat.

I highly recommend this screen-top keyboard if you plan to type anything of length greater than a tweet on your iPad, and give this two big thumbs up!

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