Personal computing devices have grown progressively smaller in size every few generations. As screens shrink, typing with on-screen keyboards becomes more challenging. We have predictive typing to thank for making texting on phones remotely bearable. With smartwatches, though, input technology has been forced to up its game – even to the extent of considering ways to make virtual keyboards out of our forearms. A new wearable attempts to take it a step further by taking the ‘board’ out of keyboard typing, making it possible to type into any Bluetooth-enabled device by tapping your fingers on anything.
The Tap Strap is a flexible plastic wearable meant to be worn on the hand just above the knuckles. Tapping your thumb three times on any flat surface turns the device ON. Once activated, it can be used, by tapping literally any surface, to type into any application on any device that has Bluetooth connectivity. There isn’t a holographic virtual keyboard or anything fancy like that. An MCU (microcontroller) in the strap connects to sensors which detect taps made anywhere and converts them into commands or characters for inputs into phones, tablets, and TVs.
The device is portable and it’s versatile, but here’s the rub: there’s an actual learning curve involved in becoming proficient at typing with the Tap Strap – essentially, the user has to wrap their head around the various combinations of finger taps that correspond to each letter, number and special character. To help users get familiar with the typing method, Tap Strap’s makers have created an iOS app called Tap Genius, which uses music and mnemonics to teach various gestures. This may all sound like a lot of work, but the team claims it takes only an hour with the app to learn to type fluently using Tap Strap.
Tap Strap can be charged using a regular micro-USB cable; it takes about 3 hours for a full charge. Once topped up, the battery lasts four hours of continuous use or 72 hours in standby mode.
Tap Strap is a whole new form of input that takes a while-ish to learn, but it offers a much-needed alternative to standard QWERTY keyboards. Typing in smartwatches and hands-free devices like Google Glass will become a lot simpler with a device like this.
There also are a number of less obvious use cases. Creator Ran Poliakine tells Bloomberg that he hopes to see Tap Strap being adopted by OEMs for use with virtual reality systems such as HoloLens and OculusRift. He also sees the the possibility of it being used to play virtual musical instruments, and as a way for the visually challenged to interact with electronic devices.
The Tap Strap is currently in a private Beta; it is expected to be available to a wider audience before the end of 2016.
Prateek Jose is a writer and engineering undergrad from India with an unhealthy obsession for obscure historical trivia. Conversations about absurdist fiction and the technological singularity make his day. He’s already uploading parts of his brain to servers by writing for websites such as this one.