Technology allows small & powerful devices
As the microprocessor continues its relentless march into all types of devices, and the human interface to computing systems continues its evolution, finding solutions to new & existing problems remains an on-going battle faced by designers, integrators, and end-users. The on-going process to reduce the size, weight, and power requirements of computing devices, while utilizing the ever-growing available computing power and integrating new and familiar human interfaces presents a fertile environment for a software based tool that can address many of these needs.
As computing devices have become smaller, and are moving towards hand-held & wearable sizes, carrying around a full-size physical keyboard provides an unwanted anchor to the past. By providing a virtual, on-screen keyboard presented to the user, the user can remain focused on the task at hand, and through various software techniques using text field edit control events such as OnEnter and OnExit, the keyboard can be activated only when needed, returning the full screen display back to the user when a keyboard is not relevant.
The Human Factor
The Human factor plays another role (Human Machine Interface (HMI) or Man Machine Interface (MMI)) that must be addressed by technology. 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 soft, or virtual on-screen keyboards. 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 soft-keyboard toolkit.
In many cases, for security, validation, and system maintenance, the user is viewed as an operator (rather than a highly privileged user), so removing function keys or system control keys that would otherwise be available is another requirement which can easily be met by a soft-keyboard that can modified as necessary.
In other situations, older systems that have been in use by operators for many years may need to be upgraded, and fixed membrane & control panels that are familiar to well-trained users need to remain consistent. Presenting a soft-keypad that has been designed to replicate the original familiar panels on a touchscreen based graphical system, which can provide the same keyboard events as the replaced control panels, allows newer operating systems, networking systems, and faster, more flexible computer systems as a replacement to older, outdated equipment, while maintaining continued user acceptance.
When dealing with a low-level of operator skill, or in a high turn-over employment situation, presenting a point and press image interface to the user, while integrating it into legacy software (where terminal software may require keyboard input as the only option for user input), adds another dimension to utilizing todays technology in the most cost effective manner.
Multiple Targets & Resource issues
The current high-technology environment presents a splintering of operating systems, computing platforms, and smaller devices, where resources are at a premium. The open-source operating system allows embedded designers the ability to add only the required code to accomplish the tasks required for the device. Cost issues limit the amount of memory and storage available, creating an environment where only what is actually required can be accommodated.
The ideal soft-keyboard / key-pad / user-interface builder would allow the following:
The ideal target components (run-time files) would require the following:
Build-A-Board has been in design and development since the late 1990's. Many of its capabilities are based on customer requirements and the knowledge gained by the acceptance of IMG's My-T-Soft® family of on-screen keyboards. Utilizing the existing base of interface software & support for all Windows platforms, along with support for numerous industrial, commercial, Assistive Technology, and common pointing devices (such as mouse, touchscreen, pen, laser based, virtual, and others), the core components have been implemented throughout the world. The only missing components to the ideal soft-keyboard solution are the modifiable human interface and the developer's interface builder (customizable keys & panels, resource management, and targetable end-user systems). These components have been integrated into the Build-A-Board builder.