Ultra mobile PCs may get fabric keyboard

A UK firm is developing lightweight, cloth keyboards for Microsoft's Origami devices

Microsoft has revealed it will be working with a UK-based peripherals company to make a fabric-based keyboard available for its Origami ultra-mobile PC device.

Eleksen, based in Pinewood Studios near London, will provide Bluetooth and USB keyboards for UMPCs. The keyboards are made of a special conductive fabric that allows a user to easily enter data into portable devices such as smart phones and PDAs without the added weight and bulk of a traditional plastic keyboard — as the Eleksen keyboards are light and can be rolled up for easy carrying.

The fabric keyboards are a good fit for the UMPC because, like other mobile devices, it lacks built-in text input and an external plastic keyboard renders the device less portable, according to Eleksen product manager Andrew Newman.

He said: "When you add a plastic keyboard [to a UMPC] it pretty much puts it in the lightweight laptop category. The Eleksen keyboards keep it slim and lightweight."

Newman said in future Eleksen's sensor technology could be adapted to provide controls for the Origami's media functions. This could take the form of traditional key input or 'gesture controls' such as sliding one's finger across a sensor to control sound volume.

Eleksen and Microsoft have yet to seal any deals with hardware manufacturers to bundle the fabric keyboards with the Origami but Newman said they are in discussions with potential partners to determine a distribution strategy.