Virtual Keyboard User Interfaces
What are They?
An onscreen keyboard (often called a virtual keyboard, a windows keyboard, or a touchscreen keyboard) is most often
used in Mobile, Pen, Rugged, Tablet, or Touch screen based computer environments as a replacement for the physical keyboard. It can also be found as an alternative or
adaptive keyboard for physically challenged invidivuals who need computer access.
Most onscreen keyboards are software utilities that display a virtual representation of a physical keyboard on screen. This display allows
users to "type" into an application just as they would with the traditional keyboard by using a mouse or other input / pointing device such as
a pen or touch screen. Almost any input device can be used with an on-screen keyboard. The advantages are that, having a keyboard on-screen,
it can be opened and closed as needed to minimize use of the screen real estate and are a virtual keyboard is virtually indestructible when
compared to external, physical keyboards (an important issue in public installations, and clean or dirty environments).
An onscreen keyboard is ideal for interactive environments such as factory automation,
lab instrumentation, manufacturing, medical or military equipment, kiosks, public safety (police, fire, and EMS), people with mobility impairments,
and most notably environments that are extremely clean, dirty, intrinsically unsafe (volatile gases or liquids).
Typically a touch screen or pen based system presents an alternative to using
an external, physical mouse. On systems so equipped, an on screen keyboard presents the alternative to using an external, physical
keyboard, creating a single, intuitive interface for the user. In other words, there is only one interface - i.e. the touch screen.
Using an on screen keyboard in this way creates a 'heads up' display environment similar to those used in
aircraft and simulators, allowing the user to keep the focus "on screen", rather than the typical up and
down movement associated with going from monitor to keyboard and back again while entering information.
Some onscreen keyboards are written as part of an application and are therefore limited to that
applications use. Others are written in high level programming environments such as Java or Flash
and (again) are limited to certain usage in specific environments. For an on screen keyboard to properly
replace a physical one in a system, it should be written at the same level as the operating system
(typically in a portable language, such as C/C++). These provide the most comprehensive interfaces and
have the least compatibility issues.
Humans are rooted in their education & training experiences, and as studies have shown, the QWERTY (or standard keyboard layout
for more than 140 years), is still one of the most effective layouts for on screen keyboards. This layout was established with no
real forethought, and certainly not with the understanding that it would become the layout used for generation after generation.
There is truth in the story that the layout was created to limit the typists speed so the mechanical bars would not jam, and it made
it easier for salesmen to type the word typewriter by placing these letters on the top row. Although there have been numerous attempts
to displace this "standard" layout, because of its ubiquity and familiarity, it remains the most common layout for physical and on screen
However, there are numerous modifications based on different cultures & languages to this standard keyboard. Because of
multi-national concerns that occur in many large roll-outs of high-technology equipment, presenting the user's own familiar keyboard
layout is an ideal solution, and one that can be easily accomplished with a flexible onscreen keyboard.
So what do I need if I'm using a Mobile, Military, Rugged, or Tablet PC?
While there are a few basic onscreen keyboards available (including Microsoft's), they often lack security and application integration capabilities and have minimal configuration options and programmability. Most notably they lack the ability to create or modify keyboard layouts. An ideal onscreen keyboard for a Tablet PC would be "My-T-Pen".
What about a Touch screen based system?
Again, there are a few basic on screen keyboards available, but for working on commercial or industrial computers (where gloves, large hands, or extreme environments are often involved), public kiosks, or where customizing keypads or keyboards are necessary to minimize user choices to reduce confusion, an ideal onscreen keyboard would be "My-T-Touch"
How do I customize an on screen keyboard?
Most user needs are already met by the above software utilities. They also contain a Developers Integration Kit that allows seamless integration into any application whether its written in C or .NET or SCADA or Visual Basic. However, if special keyboards, macro buttons, or even virtual membrane replacements are necessary to complete the user interface, we suggest you start with the "Build-A-Board Designer Tool".
I've heard about an on screen keyboard called "My-T-Soft". What is the difference between it and the above products?
Well, over a dozen years ago one of the first on screen keyboards developed for Windows was launched at Comdex Fall '93. It was called My-T-Mouse (for My-Typing-Mouse). Over the years, manufacturers of light pens, tablets, and touchscreens who wanted to offer or integrate the product felt that the name should more reflected their product. So, we began delivering onscreen keyboards with different names. All of these are now part of the My-T-Soft Family (My-Typing-Software) and are identical except for their name, with the exception of OnScreen.
So, what is "OnScreen" and why is it different?
Well, if you're working with physically challenged individuals that have limited mobility but want access to a computer, OnScreen is an ideal product. It is built on the My-T-Soft platform in two flavors. "OnScreen with Word Complete" offers all of the usual onscreen keyboard functionality, along with enhancements such as text to speech, zoom over keys, support for both traditional and adaptive technology pointing (input) devices, and a word completion component to help speed up the users word input.
"OnScreen with CrossScanner adds additional support for those individuals that use a simple switch interface to communicate with a computer.
What operating systems do these utilities support?
Currently there are products for: Windows CE (All CE thru Mobile/.NET), 98 through Windows 8.1 (including Windows Embedded and MS/Citrix Terminal Services / Remote Desktop), Linux, and Mac, (with Android, iOS and others in development).