4iThumbs Tactile Keyboard for iPhone

4iThumbs Tactile Keyboard for iPhone

photo courtesy of cultofmac.com

The idea is pretty clever:  You take a thin clear plastic layer, much like a screen saver, and give it a few “bumps” to force your finger into the correct locations, and you will make typing on the iPhone a better experience.

4iThumbs has done just that.  They released their Tactile Keyboard for iPhone to help you in typing better and faster on the iPhone without obscuring your vision of what’s on the screen.   Does it work?   Read on…

The 4iThumbs Tactile Keyboard sent to me courtesy 4iThumbs came in an envelope and basically consists of 2 parts – the clear screen saver with bumps – and the black ends, which came on a single sheet to be separated as you peel the backing, and put into place to  hold the screen saver in place and also allow it to be removed and reinserted as needed.

In theory this is a clever approach, but in practice, it was a little challenging.

First, the instructions have you using special holes in the black ends sheet to help determine on-screen placement (by lining it up with the on-screen keyboard).  For me, this proved to be difficult.  I couldn’t hold the piece in place, remove the backing, and still tear each end away from the main sheet.   In the end, I found myself simply tearing the ends off and placing them onto the black portion of my iPhone, using the silver edges of the phone to help line up the pieces.  That actually ended up working out pretty well for me.  That problem was solved.

Once I inserted the clear screen saver portion, I found that the keyboard really did do a pretty good job,   I found myself wishing it would stay a little flatter, though.  You see, the keyboard curves up a bit from being bent in order to slide it into the two holding ends.  That said, the typing was interesting.   My accuracy was much higher – the bumps forced my finger into the correct locations accurately, but, because the keyboard didn’t lay flat, my finger had to travel a bit once it touched the screen saver and that felt odd and caused me to type slower than I normally would.

Another problem I encountered involved the holders themselves.  I was forced to remove them from my iPhone at one point.   Of course, once I did that, they would never stick adequately again.  They kept peeling back off whenever I tried to insert or remove the screen saver.  I can see that this is something that was likely to happen over time anyway – the glue simply isn’t strong enough.   But on the other hand, you don’t want the product to damage the finish of your iPhone either.   It’s quite a challenge.

Basically, I like the premise of the bumps on the screen.   Visibility is good enough with the screen saver in place to function (although it does interfere with swiping motions that need to cross that area making motions like scrolling are less smooth).   The end result is that you need to be able to regularly remove and replace the screen saver portion of the accessory, but this will ultimately cause the ends to peel up.

Off the top of my head, two different possible approaches to the problem come to mind.  Feel free to commence shooting at these ideas as I present them:

1) Forget the end pieces altogether and make the clear screen coating out of something with a rubbery underside so it will stick directly to the glass screen.   Of course, you have to maintain the nature of the capacitive screen, and your finger still needs to be able to swipe so the top surface but stay smooth and non-rubbery.   I’m not sure if such a  material exists, but it would be an approach to investigate.

2) Another possible solution is to manufacture a case that incorporated end cap/holders as part of the case.  That way they couldn’t become unglued.   You could slide the screen saver in and out of the ends of the case, or maybe make a thin hinged cover – kind of like the old HP Ipaqs had, and have the bumps on that cover.   Again – the challenge there is to not break the function of the capacitive screen, but still provide the bumps for lining up your fingers.

What do you think?

What I liked: The bumps provide just enough direction and control to direct your fingers reliably into the right spots for most keyboard layouts.

What needs improving:  The screen saver/bumps need to lay flatter and a better mechanism for holding that in place would greatly improve this product.

Overall: I like the basic concept a lot, but think the execution needs a little more work – especially at the $14.95 ($16.95 for landscape) pricing.  There needs to be a better way to mount the bumps knowing that people are going to need to put them in place and remove them regularly.  Unless you use your iPhone for mostly typing notes are rarely need to access the whole screen,  you may find yourself disappointed because, in my opinion, the constant insertion and removal of the screen saver/bumps is eventually going to cause the ends to peel off.

Still, if you are in need of better typing control you might still want to take a look at the 4iThumbs Tactile Keyboard.  There really is no other solution (currently), and the basic idea really is very clever.   And, when in place firmly, it WILL improve your typing accuracy as promised.  It’s available from 4iTumbs in 3 styles – Standard (vertical) for $14,95, Landscape for $16.95, or both for $19.95.

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About the Author

Christopher Gavula
Chris has been a COBOL programmer, a desktop support technician, network engineer, telecommunications manager, and even a professional musician. Currently, he is focused on deploying Voice over IP technologies in a large, corporate setting. He started working full-time at the tender age of 14, even before there were PCs, and will probably be working and trying to finish “just one more project” as he’s lowered into the grave.

3 Comments on "4iThumbs Tactile Keyboard for iPhone"

  1. Dear Christopher Gavula,

    I’m on the team that developed 4iThumbs and would like to respond to your review which you were kind enough to write. All of the problems that affected your experience had come up in the development process, as well as some of your solutions. I would like to explain how to fix them and will send you another sample so you can test our solutions.

    1) The keypad siting off the screen.
    This will not happen if the installation is done the way we instruct on our new video (see below) Following the video will help the overlay sit exactly on the phone. If the holders are too close they will push the overlay slightly off the screen

    2) The adhesive not sticking
    The holders must be placed exactly on the edge of the iphone and held down for a few seconds while the adhesive adheres to the iphone. If you hold the holders when you remove the the overlay that should alleviate your movement of the holders. you are exactly right that we don’t want to hurt to the face of the phone as many people will use this as a trainer and eventually will not use it.

    3) Typing with 4iThumbs hard to “input”
    The typing with the 4ithumbs will get easier. Using 4iThumbs over a short period of time will soften and feel more natural. It should be understood that it will always have a slight harder touch which is one reason that it works We have a new instruction video to make the installation easier. We have posted a new installation video on our website http://www.4ithumbs.com and on youtube here…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSsdsgYPeBU

    Once again, thank you for reviewing our product and letting iPhone and Blackberry users know that there is an alternative out there other than the iPhone flat screen

    Thank you,


  2. rgsparber | May 21, 2010 at 9:49 am |

    I bought the portrait and landscape versions of this iPhone keyboard overlay and was determined to get it to work. The idea of typing on the go is very attractive to me.

    My first problem was in just getting the product. I paid via PayPal and was told the product would arrive in under a week. It did not. When I went back to 4ithumb’s web site, I discovered that their “Contact Us” function didn’t work. Only by filing a grievance with PayPal plus doing some detective work on the web did I finally get their attention. It ended up taking over 2 weeks to finally get the product. This was after repeated emails directly to the owner. When they finally did ship, it was overnight FedEx. This tells me they are honorable people but have a problem with the business end of the company.

    I practiced every day with both standard typing exercises and real email. In the end I removed the overlay and went back to just a simple screen saver. The fundamental problem I had was that without a reference position for at least one finger on each hand, my fingers would drift off the “keys”. If I looked at my fingers, I could type just fine. But this is true with and without the overlay and is certainly not “touch typing”. I really wish this product had worked for me. I’m now waiting for OS 4.0 so I can add a Bluetooth keyboard. It will be far less portable but I know it will work.

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