Synaptics aims to reinvent the Windows 8 keyboard with ThinTouch

Long a force in touch pads, Synpatics is branching out into keyboards, with the thin and touch-enabled ThinTouch. Perhaps this could emerge in a laptop someday soon, or maybe this technology is destined for a future generation of hybrid Windows 8 tablets.

Good keyboards are a valued asset in the laptop world, and they're starting to become a major factor in the tablet landscape, too. The iPad has its Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover; Microsoft Surface has its Type Cover. Perhaps Synaptics should get into the Windows 8 tablet keyboard landscape, too.

The ThinTouch keyboard is a keyboard, reinvented. Unveiled alongside the new pressure-sensitive ForcePad at a recent New York meeting, the ThinTouch is an early concept prototype of what the next generation of laptop keyboards could be. The big difference here isn't so much the thinness of the ThinTouch keyboard: it's about the same key height as the MacBook Air or Sony Vaio T's keys, based on my initial use of a sample key in a blind keyboard "taste test."

What Synaptics claims is that the ThinTouch technology requires less hardware beneath the keyboard's surface, with a keyboard that's 40 percent thinner than "traditional keyboards," as well as being manufactured in a way that's more mechanically reliable and allows for improved backlighting. I couldn't prove or disprove any of those claims in a simple in-person test of a single sample key, but if the ThinTouch can somehow enable thinner ultrabooks and other devices, that's a theoretical positive.

Sample ThinTouch key. Dan Ackerman

All I could tell was that, without knowing which key was the ThinTouch, the key felt reasonably similar and comfortable compared to the other sample Asus and Apple keys included in the test. Although, as you probably know, Asus and Apple make a variety of different-height keyboard keys on different models of laptops, and it wasn't exactly clear which sample keys were provided for the test.

Synaptics ThinTouch key (D) along with Apple (A), early ThinTouch prototype (B), and Asus (C) keys. We took the blind test, and D was nearly as good as A. Dan Ackerman

The final curious feature of the ThinTouch is built-in capacitive touch: yes, this keyboard is touch-enabled. What that means is hard to suss out right now, but Synaptics suggests possible future keyboard-based gesture commands, as well as a swipe-touch space bar that could be used for on-screen commands, autocorrect adjustments, or even gaming.

How much can you tell from a single key? Yes, it feels like an ultrabook key, and a decent one at that. Dan Ackerman

The biggest problem that Synaptics tends to face with its high-quality touchpad hardware is proper adoption in Windows machines, many of which try to cut corners with inferior hardware. The cost of a ThinTouch keyboard, while unannounced, could make it prohibitive to most laptops. However, the clear solution I see for ThinTouch could be in keyboard accessories. Synaptics could make a ThinTouch solution for future Windows 8 tablets -- possibly even integrating the ForcePad -- to achieve technology never seen in the laptop or tablet space. I'd love to see Synaptics make tablet accessories. Maybe the ThinTouch could thrive there.

Watch the video above to see the ThinTouch concept in action, and tell me if you agree.

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