The popularity of touchscreens is decreasing the need for all kiosks to come equipped with hardware keyboards, according to the industry experts KioskMarketplace interviewed for Part 3 of our tech series. (Read Part 1 on printers and Part 2 on screens.)
A state-of-the-art keyboard is one that's on the screen, said Michael Ionescu, CEO of Ionescu Technologies.
"A hardware keyboard is susceptible to breakages and jams requiring replacement. A software keyboard can appear and disappear as needed," he said.
Although it's true that developments in sofware now require less typing of information, and on-screen keyboards are often more user friendly than hardware keyboards, some kiosks still benefit from them. Deployers looking to use them should look for a few specific features to ensure that they are state-of-the-art. They should be rugged, easy to assemble and comply with ADA standards.
Most keyboard advances are around making them more rugged, said Sheridan Orr of Meridian Zero Degrees.
"We look for keyboards that have either IP54 or IP65 (Ingress Protection) ratings to ensure water resistance," she said.
Being too rugged, however, is also a problem.
"One complaint we have heard about the ruggedized keyboards is how stiff the keys are. We work with clients to ensure they choose the right tool for the right job," Orr said. "If the unit is going into a rough environment with a lot of dust, potential for spills, it may be better to deal with more resistance in the keys. If it is going into a HR environment for applicants to fill out forms then it might be easier to switch out keyboards if there are problems."
Easy to assemble and service
Both Ionescu and Orr said they look for hardware keyboards that have an integrated trackball and mouse for ease of assembly, installation and service.
Another way for easy assembly is to go with a modular keypad or keyboard design that can be plugged into the kiosk, said Norma Torti, product manager of membrane products for APEM Components, a company that manufactures keyboards, joysticks, trackballs and simulation control devices. The company recently launched a stainless steel keypad for kiosks and ATMs that "allows flexibility and economies of scale when developing a custom stainless steel keypad or keyboard solution," she said.
The keys can be removed easily and replaced with custom marked keys and backlighting.
Kiosk and ATM deployers must comply with new ADA standards by March of this year, and there are specific mandates regarding Braille, input devices and numeric keypads.
Braille instructions. Braille instructions must be provided to initiate the voice guidance feature. These instructions can be provided with Braille stickers applied
Input device. Input device controls must be tactilely discernible, which means key surfaces must be raised above surrounding surfaces to serve visually impaired individuals.
Numeric keypads. There are two options for keypad arrangements: 1) a 12-key ascending layout, such as telephone keys, or 2) a 12-key.
APEM has an entire line of pushbuttons that are compliant to ADA standards, and has also added a homing key with a raised dot to identify the central key for positioning.
What about haptic feedback?
Haptic feedback, the vibrating of keys when you push them, may seem like a logical step to make keyboards more user friendly to those with disabilities, but it's still a little ways off, Orr said. Although the technology is widely used in cell phones, it's not yet common in kiosks.
"We do not like to integrate first generation technology into our units," Orr said. "We tend to wait for the technology to get hardened because we don't want to expose our clients to the challenges that come with failures in the field. Our research has shown that Apple and Android are having lots of bugs with haptic technology. We'll wait for them to sort that out and be a fast follower once the number of bugs diminishes."
Read more about hardware.
Cover photo: APEM’s Navigator built for harsh environments