New mobile keyboard isn't really there

New mobile keyboard isn't really there

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.'A significant knock against personal digital assistants and smart phones as primary devices is that they don't come with full-size keyboards. Some accept small, mobile keyboards, but that adds heft to the overall system. Now one company is touting an alternative: a keyboard that doesn't take up any space at all.

VKB Inc. of Menlo Park, Calif., says its Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard can help mobile workers be more productive by using a light-generated keyboard projected onto any flat surface. The company showed off its product today at the Demo@15 technology conference.

The Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard combines small infrared lights and sensors. The lights paint a red, full-size keyboard on a flat surface near a user's PDA or notebook PC, while the sensors detect where the user's fingers are typing and send the information back to the device. The link is made through Bluetooth connectivity.

The product does not yet eliminate the need to carry PDA accessories. The lights and sensors are enclosed in a pair of devices smaller than a PDA. But company officials say they are working with original equipment manufacturers to embed the necessary circuitry in handheld devices. Handhelds with embedded virtual keyboard functionality are expected within a year.

Currently, the Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard supports most major handheld platforms, including various Microsoft Windows versions, Palm OS, Linux and Symbian OS. It does not currently support Java, although VKB officials said Java support will be incorporated soon.

VKB expects its virtual keyboards to sell for around $150, said Mario Neves, the company's senior vice president of sales and marketing.

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