When you work in an innovative product development culture, you get immersed in a whole range of cool, exciting, and sometimes funky new products and technology. However, it struck me last night that there is an unsung hero in nearly every office. One that we take for granted and never offer a moments thought to. And yet without its development as a product, our working lives would be very different.
It is, of course, The modern keyboard.
The keyboard, in many ways is a good representation of how our tastes have changed towards technology and the role it plays in society. With the exception of groups such as authors, in the early days of the typewriter it was, in the main, secretaries who typed and the boss who dictated whatever it was that needed typing, coining the job title of ‘typist’; someone who had probably undertaken typing lessons and had been specially trained. Throughout the 20th century the keyboard evolved and saw many interactions, however, it was the advent of the word processor and personal computers in the 1980s that saw all that change.
Thirty years on and the landscape could not be more different. Put bluntly, it is something to which we pay scant attention, and on a day-to-day level demands no attention from us. And that, in my opinion, is because it just works. Wireless or wired, flat or ergonomically moulded, plastic keys or virtual, the keyboard still represents a principle interface to the electronic world where we spend so much time.
But does that mean the keyboard is destined to be with us way into the future? Well, probably, but its place in our lives could be under attack. Speech recognition is ever improving. In fact the new Eurofighter Typoon is laden with voice recognition technology (although it’s reported that it doesn’t control the weapon release system, which is a bit of a relief). The other arrival on the block that threatens the keyboard is that of 3D environments such as 3D TV, and 3D gaming. Cambridge Consultants released a new mouse interface called Suma designed to help users navigate their way around these emerging 3D worlds. And finally I guess, many still look to the SciFi films and series as the most accurate way of predicting the future. It’s hard to imagine Capt James T. Kirk typing out his Captain’s log… boldly or not.