The humble keyboard has served us well for years. Over a hundred years, in fact – the QWERTY layout we still use today has been with us since 1872, and the letters were arranged specifically to reduce the chance of the typewriters of the day jamming.
On the other hand, the computer mouse is a relatively recent invention. Xerox shipped the first computer with a mouse in 1981, meaning the ubiquitous controller has now been with us for 30 years. In the fast-moving world of IT, that’s still an astonishingly long time, so could the days of the keyboard and mouse be numbered?
Here are four alternative ways to control your computer. It’s a fair bet that one of them could replace the keyboard and mouse in the not-too-distant future. But which will it be?
1. Tapping and swiping on a touchscreen
Smart phones and tablet PCs have already turned the touchscreen from an expensive, unreliably novelty into a slick, super-easy-to-use control method. And in those contexts they work incredibly well. We’re even starting to see laptop and desktop computers appear with touchscreens. But touchscreens have one big handicap at present: the most common way of entering text is to tap on a ‘virtual keyboard’. And this tends to be more cumbersome to use than using a normal keyboard. Sort that out, and they might be on to a winner.
2. Using your voice
When the iPhone 4S launched earlier this year, new feature ‘Siri’ got all the attention: tell it what to do, and it does it. Well, sort of: apparently it’s absolutely terrible at coping with foreign accents and users have reported varying levels of success at ordering their iPhones around. But Siri isn’t the only voice recognition tool out there. Plenty of other mobile phones have some level of voice recognition, and Google Voice Search can be pretty impressive. We’re not quite able to order computers around like they do on Star Trek yet, but that day may be closer than you think.
3. Waving your arms about
Sounds silly? Well, if you’ve seen the film Minority Report, you’ll remember a scene where Tom Cruise moves items around on a giant screen by plucking and sliding them through mid-air. When that film was released, such an interface was pure fiction. But just nine years later, it’s possible to recreate similar functions by buying Microsoft’s Kinect controller and reprogramming it. Watch this video on YouTube to see it in action. It almost feels like the future is here.
4. Using the power of thought
Here’s another one that’s much closer to reality than you probably think. Imagine if you could control your computer just by thinking about what you want it to do. If possible, this would probably be the most immediate, convenient control method of the lot. Well, incredibly, brainwave controllers already exist. They detect brainwave patterns using sensors attached to the scalp. Existing models can enable you to move objects around on screen, turn switches on and off or even operate a wheelchair – all using your mind alone. Wow! Read more about these impressive devices.
Once you realise what giant strides have been made in these alternative areas of computer interface, it seems incredible we’re still using a keyboard created over 100 years ago to input information into computers. Isn’t it time for a change?