Posted on May 12, 2022 in Technology

Why Didn’t Projection Keyboards Take Off?

They’re Not Actually That Convenient

While they look cool, and the premise sounds like it’d be more convenient, the reality is that they weren’t. Anything made of light can be interfered with using other light, firstly – all of the coolest demo pics showed the keyboard being used in a low-light situation, primarily so you could see it better in these super cool pics but secondarily so it would work better. Speaking of seeing it better, that’s a problem too. Looking at bright things in the dark can cause eye strain, and while you probably don’t need the lights completely off to see your keyboard, your monitor itself is going to produce light, so working in suitable conditions for the keyboard may not be suitable given your monitor. You can lower how much light the monitor produces, but you also don’t have to do that for other keyboards, so.

Secondly, you now have to have a flat surface to type on. You may think “regular keyboards need that too!”, but they don’t need it as badly as the projection keyboards need it. You can type on a laptop on your lap. The keyboard (unless you’re typing on a flimsy, ultra-thin device) can support its own weight, and you can sit while doing it. If you don’t have a place to set the projection – like a table, or even a smooth chair – you’d end up setting it on the floor so it can project evenly. This then means that you’re touching the floor, or the wall, or whatever surface you have instead of your desk.

While this is, again, not a consistent problem, it’s the kind of thing you don’t want to discover in an airport or out on a hike looking for endangered frogs.

Nobody Likes Slapping Plastic

Turns out, a lot of people like haptic feedback. At the very least, they’re used to it. Typing on tablets can be frustrating for some because it’s unclear if they actually activated the button, requiring them to glance between the keyboard and the screen where the letters are appearing. Everything from long nails to caffeine shakes to physical disabilities can make it harder to type on tablets. The same applies to the projection keyboard. You’re left typing on whatever surface you have – most tables are hard, one way or the other, and so you’re slapping your fingertips down on something that doesn’t have any ‘give’ like normal keyboards do. It’s cool-looking, but not cool-feeling.

Mac ran into a similar issue when it was making the slimmest laptop yet – not only did the size compromise the strength and power of the laptop, it also achieved that size by eating up key height, which was the computer equivalent of breeding the snout off of an American Bulldog “because it’s what the breed standardizers want”. That keyboard felt like typing directly onto a hard surface, too, and a significant portion of the people who bought it didn’t like that.

Does it Actually Work?

It looks cool, and given the conditions are right, it works, right?

The high end models do for sure. The problem is that, like with any electronic, not every product on the market is legitimate or well-made for the price. The high end models can handle uncertainty in projection-to-desk distance, they can handle differences in light and a bright room, they can even handle small warps in the typing surface. The cheaper knockoffs of the original idea simply cannot, and in the same way Roseart pastels can convince children that pastels just aren’t for them, these cheaper projection keyboards did nothing to ingratiate the general public to the much more expensive version. After all, before you drop 300$ on something, you want to be sure you like it with a 50$ version first, right? That’s good advice for everything from fishing rods to model kits, because if you don’t enjoy it, you haven’t set yourself back $$$ to learn that.

At the end of the day, projection keyboards look cool, but they’re not actually that convenient to use, and not every model can even do the things keyboard needs to. Until they can do better than the flexible keyboards already on the market, projection keyboards are going to remain a niche item.