Universal Palm and PocketPC keyboard launches - wireless

by Guy Kewney | posted on 06 December 2002

A wireless keyboard for your PDA; it should mean you can keep the keyboard when you upgrade the hand-held computer. And it's neat, and thin, and light; Pocketop may have a winner.

Guy Kewney

Nobody's keyboard is perfect and if you have a hand-held computer, any solution to text entry is a compromise. But one of the biggest gripes people have is that having spent £80 on a special qwerty keyboard, they find that it's just so much junk when they upgrade the PDA. Pocketop gets around this with an infra-red wireless keyboard.

<1/> David Ferguson

Marketing VP David Ferguson just finished a week-long launch of his Canadian company and its first product, the Pocketop Keyboard, into the UK market, with a successful penetration of Dixons, PC World and Micro Anvika who will be selling the $99 US product for £79.00 in Britain.

The Pocketop keyboard isn't, perhaps, quite as thin as the Stowaway reviewed here recently; but because it has an infra-red link to the PDA, it will work with any pocket computer, from Palm, Handspring, Sony or Microsoft Pocket PC designs - as long as it has an IRDA port. And most do.

It's also clever the way it comes with several ways of being set up.

For Palm users, it's easy; you fasten it to the stylus groove at the side of the PDA, and it forms a foldable unit. Open the keyboard, and you have a working desktop system

<1/> Pocketop mates naturally with Palm's PDAs

You can clip it to a stand to make it readable on a desk, or even, if you're careful, use it on your lap.

With other devices, it's equally simple, because it comes with a little easel to hold the PDA upright; and a reflector takes care of making sure the IR signal reaches the input, if it's on top of the unit (it often is).

But you don't have to clip keyboard and PDA together. You can, if you prefer, just leave the PDA on the desk, and point the IR ports at each other. And yes, this sometimes means that the PDA has to be swiveled around so that it's not upright. Not a problem; a one-click menu lets you swivel the display, too.

We gave the keyboard a quick breakfast-table test. It is incredibly small, and yet feels, to a touch-typist, like a full-size keyboard. Designer (and company founder) Michael Katz discovered that you can make a keyboard much smaller than it feels, if you move the design into three dimensions. The top row of keys are curved upwards, which, weirdly, allows you to reach them comfortably even though they are half size. Same for the bottom ones. And the common keyboard PDA trick - leave out the number keys - means you can throw away an extra fourth row.

<1/> The IR reflector feeds signals into the Palm or Pocket PC

In a quick test, the space bar seemed odd; Ferguson promises that "you get used to it." He's promised to let us have a longer-term review of the device, to see if we do.

The company isn't a keyboard company. Katz has a vision of the future of portable and mobile devices, which Ferguson described as "the difference between convergence, and modularity."

They don't believe that the market is going to evolve some kind of combined phone/camera/PDA which Nokia has been experimenting with in things like the 7650. "The phone design is a minimum-size voice unit, and people aren't going to accept something bigger. At the same time, the PDA has a minimum acceptable display size, and that's getting bigger, not smaller. So we think you will see a system of modular devices, linked by wireless, in the future."

This squares precisely with the views of NewsWireless Net, which has been impressed with the Personal Mobile Gateway concept from IXI - which assumes Bluetooth as a way of linking "sleek" components to a hidden wireless hub.

Bluetooth isn't used in this version of Pocketop keyboard, because, mainly, of price. With Bluetooth, the price would be nearer $200 than the $99 it costs in the US. Worse, there are a lot of PDAs that don't actually have Bluetooth capability. "We don't expect to have a Bluetooth version this year, maybe 2004, but not much earlier," suggested Ferguson.

<1/> The special stylus pulls apart then ...

<1/> ... slides into the slot, and bends, forming a prop