A chorded keyboard like a Microwriter may be a better input device, especially for small computers, than many alternatives.
The traditional QWERTY keyboard was designed to prevent mechanical typewriters from jamming. It assumes the operator is well trained and proficient. Since you have to move the hands, untrained operators find themselves looking at the keys rather than at the display or the material, leading to errors and slow operation. Intensive typewriting movements can be tiring and lead to repetition strain injuries in some operators. It is very difficult to make a physically small keyboard and still be able to type on it. The keyboard is the major constraint on limiting the size of a palmtop computer.
Alternatives to the keyboard have considerable problems dealing with a quantity of input, although they can be excellent at marking up forms with predefined answers. Those that use a touch pad or touch screen and handwritten input do not reliably identify the words written, and are slow (Apple Newton). Those using grafitti and other redesigned alphabets are much more reliable, but still slower than handwriting. Speech recognition takes more processing power than current palmtop computers can spare, and are not suited to many situations (noisy train or office, quiet library). Thought recognition would be ideal but requires less invasive nerve sensor arrays with greater discrimination, and artificial neural networks better than are currently available in this culture.
A chorded keyboard can be much smaller than a QWERTY keyboard. The Microwriter chorded keyboard, like grafiti and similar alphabets, can be learnt in less than an hour. Some school children manage to learn it in less than 15 minutes, and trials reported in The Times Educational Supplement indicated children with manual dexterity problems in writing were able to master the Microswriter. Legible handwriting speed is usually obtained after two or three days of use. It provides an entry speed about 50% faster than handwriting for average users, while intensive users achieved 250% of their handwriting speed. Microwriter Ltd's own tests indicated that experienced typists would exceed the best Microwriter speed in bursts, but after a 20 minute period, the Microwriter was ahead. I read an independent review by Gareth Powell which confirmed the speed and ease of use.
MicrowriterMicrowriter Ltd was formed in 1978 after an initial investment by Hambro Life Assurance Ltd. During 1979 design and production facilities were set up in Mitcham, Surrey. Pilot marketing included sales to a variety of large organisations, with about 1000 units being sold by their two salesmen in 1979.
The Microwriter was invented by Cy Endfield, a US businessman, scientist, magician, but perhaps better known as a film director (he directed Zulu).
The Microwriter included 8k of non-volatile RAM, or about 4 pages of text. It had a 16 character LCD display, a 30 hour NiCd battery, and an RS232C communications port. It had a bus connector for fast peripherals, and an I/O socket for cassette recorders. The keypad was 5 key, plus a function key. The software included text editing functions, formatting, some type styles, and special menus for RS232C settings and the like. There was an optional TV/monitor control unit for connecting to a TV or monitor.
Microwriter Ltd were attempting to sell their unit for users who were thinking about what they were typing, rather than transcribing existing material. They expected users to be reading, making decisions, checking data, and not typing continuously. They didn't expect to be selling to top executives, as they assumed such people would have adequate secretarial facilities.
In 1983, Microwriter were large enough to put out a newsletter In Touch, promoting their keyboard. They gave several examples of people using their keyboard, interestingly enough including Dennis Norden of My Word fame. They also had agents in several countries.
Duncan Tribute reports on Microwriter
I found your web-site on chorded keyboards of great interest, whilst doing a search on Google for 'Microwriter'
I still have my original Microwriter S/N 40922, marked as Model MW4 which I purchased as a package from the good folk at Willow Lane, Mitcham during the mid-eighties. The package included a Smith-Corona TP-1 daisywheel serial printer, which produced really excellent results with a film ribbon but was restricted to 10pt Pica typeface, due to the escapement of the machine having only one rail with 10 studs to the inch! (Boy, was it noisy - I build an enclosure so I could still use the phone!).
I also purchased a Video/TV interface which produced really sharp text-matter via either composite video, or RF via its internal modulator. I achieved a very acceptable writing rate, far in excess of my hand-writing, although the machine has not been in regular use for a very long time! I also had an AgendA, but my brother 'stole' that from me some years ago and put it to good use, travelling all over the world.
I ended up some six years ago, selling my printer and the video interface to a TV scriptwriter, who I found advertising a Microwriter in the local press, only to find he already had three! My Microwriter is still in full working order (but could use a replacement Ni-Cad pack) and I have just set it up to communicate with my current PC using Windows ME program 'Hyperterminal' although I miss the control codes. (I see there is now a CyKey USB add-on available, which can handle these additional codes).
I note on your Microwriter page that you set out all the key-strokes,
using keyboard characters. I have the original set of instruction
cards, all complete and which I encapsulated, which I would be very
happy to scan and forward to you as JPEG files, should you wish to add
these to your site.
Duncan W Tribute
Other Chorded keyboards
Microwriter key patterns
Middle o Index o o Ring Thumb o o Little Command o Lowercase is default, hit command once for one letter in Uppercase, hit command twice for Caps Lock, hit command and thumb keys for lowercase. Straight line up for i o x o x o Add a bar for r o x x x o Add a bar at the bottom for L o x o x x Signet ring finger is s o o x o o Horizontal of the H o o o x x Top of the T o x x o o A for angle x x o o o DowNstroke of N x o x o o Easiest finger for E o x o o o Bullseye for O x o o o o Space o o o x o Back of B, mirror of D x o x o x Curl round for C x o o x o Dome of D, mirror of B x x o x o First four fingers for F x x x x o Downstroke of G, mirror if I o o x o x J looks like J, mirror of L o o x x x Upstroke of K o o x x o Most fingers for M x x x o x Press all for P x x x x x Tail from O x o o o x Little finger, very U o o o o x Downstroke of V o x o o x Two sides of W o x x x x X all except index x o x x x Sidesways Y x o x x o ZigZag between keys for Z x o o x x . fullstop, comes to a point x x x o o Comma looks like a comma o x x o x Numbers and punctuation mode Command N for one character, twice to lock 1 o x o o o 2 o x o x o 3 x x o x o 4 x x x x o 5 x x x x x 6 o o o o x 7 o o x o x 8 x o x o x 9 x x x o x 0 x x o o o