You have to feel bad for the humble keyboard: over the years the place we go to release our streams of consciousness has had surprising little innovation. Well, a few have had a stab: Microsoft had the Sculpt; Lenovo’s ‘Adaptive keyboard’ was an interesting misfire; and who could forget Maltron?
So along comes Tap's crowdfunded wearable keyboard to upend everything you thought you knew about typing. That keyboard you’re working on right now? Find yourself a sturdy mallet and – actually, maybe don't do away with it just yet.
Read this: The biggest wearable crowdfund success stories of all time
The Tap is a really interesting idea: a wearable that turns your fingers into a Bluetooth keyboard, capable of typing on any surface and connecting to any device. In fact, the basic idea isn't all that new; chorded keyboards have been kicking around since the 19th century, but the Tap is unique in the way it wraps around your fingers.
Here’s how it works: The device is made of five loops, one for each of your digits, and slips snugly onto your hand of choice. Each of these loops has a sensor on the underside, which detects when you tap that finger down and corresponds to a different letter. Each finger represents a vowel, but you’ll need to tap out different combinations to get other letters. Tap comes with an app called TapGenius, which teaches you this lettering system through a series of repeatable exercises.
After you've learned the vowels, you'll learn NTLS, which requires tapping two fingers at once to get your letter of choice. Then, things start to get complicated. For example, typing the letters K and B requires tapping two fingers, two fingers apart. The app tries to make this more memorable with a little song about a "Klutzy Badger" who likes to "kick backwards". Reader, I have come to hate that badger.
But Tap says you should have figured it out after an hour, and that's true – I did have a grasp on the various combinations by the 60 minute mark – but after a few days I’m still not anywhere near what could be called “fluent”. I’m a fast typer (that’s not a brag; many of us are) but even after several days of using the Tap, I’m much slower than I am writing this out (I had planned to write this piece with the Tap, but it took too long).
That’s because Tap demands a memory reset. This isn’t in any way similar to the keyboard on your laptop on your smartphone. The QWERTY system is gone, replaced by me: half man, half keyboard, expelling words from my fingers like a wordy, shit wizard. Whereas years of practice has my fingers expertly navigating the keyboard without a second thought, here I have to think about what I'm doing. I have to calculate.
But while I have no doubt Tap could become second nature in time, the responsiveness of the device is what holds it back. When I'm tapping away on a flat surface, like my dining room table, accuracy is pretty good, but if I'm on a softer surface, or even resting that hand on my leg when sat down, it becomes much less perceptive. So despite what Tap claims, it's not something you can really use anywhere. Not yet.
But Tap was built with other things in mind. VR is a place that this could have interesting applications, and it's something the company is thinking about. But I think the real killer use case is accessibility. It’s not something the company is pushing hard in its messaging, but is still clearly thinking about – it just added support for Apple's VoiceOver, for example. Many people who cannot physically use a standard keyboard may be able to use the Tap. That is, if it can make it more accurate.
I should also mention the mouse function, but mainly because it’s pretty disappointing. The thumb ring has an optical source, much like a mouse you might use, that lets you drag it across a surface and have it work as your computer mouse. Problem is, it's so fiddly that it invariably ends with a rage quit. It's jumpy and imprecise, even on smooth surfaces.
On the other hand (hey!) the Tap definitely has purpose as a keyboard. It's not for replacing your trusty computer keyboard, but for those moments where you can't use one. I love the idea of this versatile keyboard, particularly one that’s an extension of my body, and the eight hours of battery life you get with Tap is another selling point (it charges back up in a little container). For $180 though? It feels like a lot, but I think if Tap can work out the kinks and make the keyboard more consistent, it will be worth it.
For example, I hate getting my laptop out on flights because it usually ends up being more trouble than it’s worth, but having the Tap paired with a tablet could be a solid setup. That is, if I ever get past 22 words per minute.