Emulating the TextBlade

While waiting for the latest from @waytools, I’d like to pursue the question of using some software approaches some have used to create a TB type layout using a regular keyboard, especially to get feedback in one place from those who did it and then later were selected for Treg - info on how well you thought it worked to help you adjust when you got the TB mainly. But also if, while still using a standard keyboard, if you felt it worked better than standard layouts.

There were two that I recall.

One was from Hangie and I think may have been the only Windows option. Sounded very interesting. Also sounded like a lot of work as he had to work out scripts as I recall. And I think he made scripts for multiple layouts (qwerty, dvorak, etc). Obviously a lot of help for folks who want to get some experience with how the TB approach works, though, he presently can’t answer the question of whether it helps with the transition to a TB since he isn’t a tester yet. But he may be able to give an opinion on the second question.

The other was most often posted by wmertens, I think, for the Mac? It was Karabiner.

Well I’ll answer the second question from my perspective: I love the layering, edit keys, reduced travel, etc. that the TB key layout provides even for a normal keyboard. I use this all the time now on my work laptop and wouldn’t want to switch back to a standard layout keyboard. One thing that surprised me was the increased accuracy for touch typing numbers and symbols once you started to get used to it. I can now effortlessly hit numbers on a normal keyboard using the TB layouts, where I couldn’t do this before despite being a majority touch typist. While the TB itself offers so much more, these simple things alone have become a part of my keyboard that I just don’t want to give up!

I recently bought the latest MacBook Pro 15 and went to get the Karabiner layout stuff that @wmertens created so that I could continue using the TB layouts, but unfortunately Karabiner doesn’t yet work on macOS :anguished: Not sure what I’m going to do yet, but definitely missing the TB layouts when using this keyboard!! Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do some research for alternatives in the near future. If anyone out there has any suggestions on this front, please drop me a message or post on the forum. I expect I’ll devote some time to fixing this problem as I really don’t want to do without the TB layering for my MacBook Pro keyboard. I really do notice the difference now and I don’t like it.

It’s quite strange that in such a short time I’ve come to love this approach and favour it over the layout I’ve used for over 30 years. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I challenge you to give it a go for a while, because I think that most people will come to appreciate it and not want to go back to a standard layout keyboard. And when you finally get to add a real TB to the mix you may never want to use an old keyboard again :slight_smile:

4 Likes

That sounds great. I’ve always wondered if the basic concept of the textblade would be an general advantage. I could see WT licensing out the concept to others which would let other companies to make more traditional keyboards (to serve a market that is afraid to even try something this small). Heck, I can see all kinds of variations - something similar in size to the TB but all separate keys, or larger but still smaller than the standard keyboard size, or ones that are not ergonomic, or ones with another strip you can add across the top for special stuff (think touchbar or like the old function rows). Those would not be keys you normally touch type on yet they would still be easier to reach than similar rows today! Oh, and ones that are either built in or connected with a wire to maximize response for gaming.

All of which helps me! Because once the concept is adopted by many, I won’t have to worry about a future where these things aren’t available anymore!

Don’t forget to let us know how much you think working with your emulation helps you once you get a TB.

Let me ask another question about this emulation. Is there anything in particular you found to be worse when using a regular keyboard in a TextBlade approach?

I wouldn’t say worse about anything, but there is some frustration. There’s the learning curve of course for keys in new places, but that’s a one off. I assume the real TextBlade will handle the layer stuff so much better as it’s built into the firmware, but with emulation, this was rather tricky.

Simple example: QWERTY keyboard; ds combo for edit layer. It’s a fine line between getting it to type ds when you want, or go to edit layer when that’s what you want. This was the hardest thing to get to work reasonably in emulation, and even so, when typing stuff that ends in ds, there are still times when the speed is too fast and it thinks I was going for edit layer and I have to go back and correct. With the emulation software this is just too hard to fix. I imagine the TextBlade firmware is much better at this as it has control at the source. I do remember that this was an area that they tweaked to allow different delays for users, so I assumed at the time they were hitting the same issues I was but from a different angle. From a user experience perspective it’s a tricky area. When watching the stem the human brain can detect quite small delays between the key being pressed and it appearing on screen, so delaying the key became noticeable to the user and was annoying. Getting a small enough delay not to be noticed, but big enough to try to determine intent is hard. The emulation was basically impracticable to buffer and interpret, so the capabilities are restricted. What I have now is a balance between usable and functional.

It’s also worth noting that not all traditional keyboards can handle the layer stuff as they can’t all detect multiple keys at once. I’ve found different keyboards have different restrictions. Usually in key groups that will only register one key at a time in the group.

Sorry for long message, but essentially I love the TB layering stuff and layout and would choose this on a normal keyboard despite these quirks. I still keep the function keys, bit disable the number row. I also still use the ESC key a bit. I’m a heavy Emacs user, so I use lots of key combos and sometimes you aren’t even sure what keys as you just do it by muscle memory. Using the layers sometimes cases this to asslow down as you have to work out what the new key combos are, but I still love it and wouldn’t change back.

1 Like

I like long messages! :relaxed:

Good point about the emulation issues in timing. Obvious now that you mention it, but I hadn’t thought about that. Yes, the TB should be much better on that. I can still get two letters instead of a chord, but that is because I simply failed to hit them at the same time occasionally.

I can see a future version of this - maybe or maybe not portable, just the concept - that may well use another row. I mean, especially if it is built in to a laptop or they opt for something portable, but not this tiny, why not? I could well see an additional row as being very handy for special things. If I had something like that, I’d probably set the extra top row to be one-finger access to media controls, screen brightness, etc. And probably ESC too.

When you get a TB, would love to hear how it compares. Not about the size convenience since that is obvious for portability and easy finger movement, but rather how well things work compared to emulation.

In line with my previous posts about a future version maybe adding another row for special things, now that we’ve seen the Apple Touch Bar, maybe they could have an additional row people could program to do different things based on the app you have active? Of course, a TB type concept were built into a laptop, it would simply let them put their touch bar closer to the home row so that’s a gain right there.

If it was still a portable version, I doubt it would light up different things based on what you are doing. More likely you’d have to program it for different apps yourself and remember what the extra keys do on each. I sorta do that now with function layers, etc. Hard to remember all the things I set up unless I use them all the time. For example, I change volume, all the time. Also turn off the TB more than once each day so those I remember. But trying to recall where I put “copy screen” to clipboard, or desktop, or copy window to screen or desktop is not something I do much of and while I know about where I have them, I can’t remember which of the four keys do what!

Just look upon it as a stage of life.

Fortunately this isn’t a stage of life issue. Well, sort of fortunate. It’s just that if I’m not using something fairly regularly, I never could remember where to find it. Which is actually another advantage of the TB. I’ve touch typed for years but only occasionally needed to access numbers or most symbols. So when I did need them, I had to stop and look for where those on the top row were. I simply never practiced the extra stretch to hit them in my touch typing. Never seemed worth the effort.

But with them in such easy reach on the TB, it is so much easier that I’ve gotten pretty good at the numbers and 15 of the symbols - which is about all I normally use.

I certainly like the idea of the touch bar, though it isn’t something you touch type with, even if it were closer. It would lose the impact without the visual feedback.

In my emulation mode I moved the function layer onto the numbers row (and fixed some issues with green layer handling of modifiers as well). Not sure if I’d use the extra layer with it as keys only. The TextBlade concepts have made me really appreciate the not moving off the home row, so an additional layer of keys seems less appealing. But a context sensitive, visual layer is quite nice.

I suspect that Apple will soon release standalone keyboards with a built in touchbar, it’s an obvious step and would probably help them make us a Unique selling point for their peripherals, especially if it also supported touch id, which would significantly extend the ease of use of apple pay

I don’t know how easy it would be for WT to emulate the touch bar, BT is not as fast as USB (and the display on my touchbar changes a lot as I more around apps) but also it’s not just fixed keys, for example I quite often use the touchbar as a slider in the calendar app to change the time of appointments, I can’t see a set of fixed keys handling that.

Also the major thing on the touchbar is the way it visually changes, thats a very different model from the current TB structure, though I have seen discussion of a keyboard with e-ink to modify the visuals,

If a TB concept is adopted by Apple for a laptop, they could simply locate the Touchbar above it. It may not even use the same ergonomic design. Or it may simply take the basic concept of layers, reducing the number of keys and resulting stretch. Having a touchbar just two rows above the home position would still be better than now.

In fact, while I’m very impressed with the hardware to make a very small, but great feeling keyboard, it may be that in the long run the real advance WT has made is in the layered approach. On my Apple keyboard, I have 6 rows counting the space bar. This has 4 so having another on some versions, whether touch bar or other, still leaves you way ahead.

But it is even better than that. The space it takes for six rows on a TB only takes up the vertical space of of 4.5 rows on the Apple keyboard! A four row textblade barely goes over 3 on it!

I can see all kinds of new keyboards using this approach. for example, 4 rows with the top row being certain special things you may always want handy, but don’t use most of the time. This could give you single keys for some actions (cut, copy, paste, media play, pause, FF, RW, Next track, previous track, volume up, down, mute). Whatever the user wanted (I like being able to do things with one finger). That list would fill the 12 additional keys. And you could still program layers for it as well - so lots of two key options you could hit with the same hand. And then a touch bar above that! Yet you’d still be more compact than regular keyboards.

Of course, some will prefer it as is now and that’s fine. I’m just looking at it the same way as all the many variations of regular keyboards we have today.

BTW, with your emulation, you can do the layers, but you still have the greater stretch, even if you limit yourself to 3 main rows. How does that work for you? I would suspect that the reduced space matters a lot with using layers.

I agree that there are advantages to the color, sliders, etc. But I’m not saying the TB will match up in every detail - though I see no reason why they couldn’t build in the TB on a laptop (thus no Bluetooth limit) or, for that matter, they could create an external version that plugs in directly.

As I said above, it isn’t the exact physical design that I’m thinking about. That’s great for some things, not as much for others. I’m just thinking about the basic approach with less space needed and all the advantages of layers.

2 Likes

NOT! The Ilepo Flyshark 2 has four rows that incorporate 3 layers. It is bluetooth 2.1+EDR. I have had one for the past 11 months and it works just fine. My only frustration is that the battery seems to drain - even when not in use.

You do realize that you are starting to take this thread in the direction of showcasing other shipping products that are about to eclipse the idea of the TextBlade. Just sayin. Maybe just maybe.

Well, let’s just say the way they did the layered approach. I saw stuff on the Flyshark and personally, it looked pretty awkward compared to the TB approach. The TB does a lot of things that make better sense, imo. For example, the numbers are essentially where you expect - just one row down, but that makes them easier, not harder. A lot of the most common symbols are also in the order you expect.

There were plenty of other things I felt were much better on the TB, but I’m limiting these comments strictly to the layering approach each takes.

I wasn’t showcasing other products. I was talking about the TB, possible varieties in the future, and emulation.

Of course, others may bring up other devices if they wish, but I saw nothing in the Flyshark that would make me prefer it. Right off hand, I only saw one advantage and that is that the newest one apparently lies flat rigid so you can use it on your lap directly. And some will prefer that.

But in exchange for that advantage, you carry around something which, even folded, takes up a lot more space. I basically don’t even notice the TB in my pocket. I’m sure I’d notice this thing!

That one advantage just isn’t enough to attract me to it.

The form factor of the TextBlade has always been the attraction and still is imo. The other things that @waytools have done to make such a beautiful product work are inspirational I believe. At first glance people (myself included) weren’t sure about the movement of keys, but once you get to try it you find that it really is a better way to type. For me that’s using a traditional keyboard emulating the TextBlade layering approach. It takes a little getting used to, but the results are really worth it. I think we get some of this impression from the TREG reports too.

The beauty of the TextBlade is clear, but I think the long term potential of what they have done exceeds that product, and I think it is this that @dabigkahuna is getting at. I can’t wait to feel what a TextBlade types like, but I’ve gotten huge benefits from the approach already.

2 Likes

I assume with your emulation efforts that you have set things on your Mac keyboard to just use 3 rows plus space?

Looking at my external apple keyboard, I’d say the bottom of the space bar is just a little higher compared to the home row. And since the TB angles, the distance is further as you more towards the outer keys.

This matters. If I put my fingers on the apple keyboard as if it was a TB, I feel a little cramped hitting the space bar. The distance plus the angle of the TB gives me much more comfort in this aspect. If Apple just had a wider space key like the TB, it would help that a lot. If you are used to this, switching to the TB would probably not be an issue in this one aspect since it would mean your thumb would just hit the space bar higher up. Of course, the angle will require adjustment.

Anyway, if you are trying to use 3 rows, that leaves you with two others for whatever you want. This means some of the ideas I had for future versions of the TB (an additional row) could added. I could put 14 things on the next row up for one finger items and 14 more on the green layer for one hand (but two finger) operation - which I think would be great.

Yes you can do this. I’ve already done a simple mapping to put function keys on the number row, but you can put whatever you want there using the Excel file. No code changes required. You can also add Green layer mappings of course.

As for the Mac keyboard, I’m not using it as there’s no working emulation for Sierra, so on the Mac I’m stuck with a standard keyboard and hating it. I only use the emulation on Windows and using either my laptop keyboard or my favorite Logitech keyboard.