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Two weeks ago, I excitedly wrote the news that the Tap keyboard is now shipping. It’s a $149.99 Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, which slides onto your hand like brass knuckles and gives you typing powers if you can master its arcane system of “chords” to make letters. You can pair Tap with your phone, tablet, or computer, and it just works like any Bluetooth keyboard would.
I got a review unit last Friday, and I’ve been simultaneously thrilled by Tap, and strongly disappointed.
In my last write-up, I put forward some potential pros and cons. Things like: “Would it make me look lame?” And, “Will I be bad at it?” Today, I’m going to attempt to address my hopes and fears about the device. Also, as you might have noticed, I have embedded a clip from Circuit Breaker Live, where I teach Nilay how to use Tap. Watching that might give you some context for what I’m about to say.
I look and feel amazing when wearing Tap. Since it’s winter, I wear a big jacket with a lot of pockets, so it’s become my habit to carry Tap with me in its slick carrying / charging case. Every time I bring out my Tap keyboard and put it on, I get excited reactions from anyone nearby. They don’t even quiz me on its efficacy as an instrument of discreet text input, they just think it looks badass.
Also, I was concerned initially that wearing Tap would limit the usability of my hand. That was the wrong concern. The big problem with using your hand while wearing Tap is that you will do all sorts of accidental keypresses, so it’s important to manually disable Tap when you’re not actively typing.
I think Tap’s greatest achievement is the learning process. You start with the vowels, which are assigned to one finger each. Then you add NTLS, which is two fingers at a time. Then DMZ, which is two fingers, skipping one. Tap is set up so that the most common letters you use are the easiest to type. There’s a learning app called TapGenius, which progressively introduces new sets of letters that have similar “chord” shapes.
It feels amazing to build up muscle memory for Tap typing. It’s like your brain is expanding. Way more fun than Mavis Beacon, that’s for sure. And because Tap’s system of letter chords has so little to do with traditional typing, it didn’t feel like any of my new knowledge was interfering with my hard-won QWERTY skills.
Some of the letters are difficult to type, especially anything that requires a raised ring finger. Thankfully, the difficult letters have “shortcuts.” For instance, you can type a “Q” by double-tapping out an “O.”
But there’s one horrible caveat: at first, most of my mistakes when typing were because I just didn’t know the correct finger combo for a letter. But after a while, most of my mistakes were Tap’s fault, not mine. Some of that positive reinforcement I was getting when I typed slowly and carefully started to unravel when my typing sped up and I got penalized for Tap’s inability to recognize my skills.
Tap’s ad on YouTube is basically full of lies. It makes it look like you can type anywhere, on any relatively solid surface. That is simply not true. I can type the vowels just fine on my knee or arm or bed, but more complicated letters fail constantly on these soft surfaces. Tap works a thousand times better when you tap your fingers with a good amount of force on a solid surface like a desk or table.
This isn’t just a lemon, or my inability to gesture correctly. I have two Taps, and they both work equally poorly on soft surfaces. I’ve tried all sorts of tricks to hold my hand correctly and make clean letter shapes, and nothing has worked.
Also, Tap is advertised as a keyboard and mouse, but this is a lie. The mouse is basically useless. It’s so inaccurate and finicky that I’d rather carry a USB mouse in my pocket at all times to avoid the pain and suffering Tap mousing induces.
So, what’s the point?
Tap is supposed to be a method of discreet text input for mobile and wearable devices on the go. Instead of using your voice to input text, or a mobile keyboard with zero tactile feedback, Tap is supposed to let you type with one hand, wherever you are.
Unfortunately, right now Tap seems to require a hard surface for typing. This is also far from “discreet,” since you’re thwacking your fingers on the table.
It’s a lot of fun to learn, and I’m up to nearly 20 words per minute under the correct conditions, but I haven’t found a place in my life where Tap is in any way more convenient than my traditional methods of text input.
My hope is now that the product is released, the people at Tap can tweak their typing algorithms to better handle soft surfaces.
I’m also planning to integrate Tap into my wearable computer setup, which is where it really could shine. If I discover any newfound utility for this device, or overcome the soft surface obstacle somehow, I’ll be sure to write an update.
I should also point out that for people with certain accessibility concerns, Tap might be exactly what they’re looking for. If typing on your phone’s keyboard is a struggle, or if a traditional QWERTY keyboard doesn’t work for you, Tap might be the correct combination of ease-of-use, typing speed, and “discreet” operation (as opposed to voice input). Just don’t expect it to be useful in all situations.
Watch the rest of the show
Below is an embed of the entire Circuit Breaker Live show. It’s a really good one — “jam packed,” as they say — and I think you’ll really enjoy it.
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