The iPad is great for many things — watching movies, reading magazines or playing games. But when it comes to typing, the onscreen keyboard leaves something to be desired.

Seattle-area engineers Steven Isaac and Brad Melmon are looking to solve that problem with TouchFire, a lightweight, silicone rubber keypad that overlays the iPad’s touchscreen. The idea is to provide typists with the same tactile feel of typing on a laptop or desktop computer — letting them simply enter text without the need to look directly at the screen.

It is pretty amazing stuff. And this is one invention where a picture (or video) is really worth 1,000 words. Take a look at this overview from Isaac and Melmon, both of whom are almost giddy with excitement about the technology.

Isaac says the TouchFire device is slated to ship in December. It’s currently available for preorder via the KickStarter funding site, for a pledge of $45 or more to the company. The startup is looking to raise $10,000 through KickStarter, and has already pulled in $8,645 toward that goal.

Isaac has been tinkering with tablet computers since the early days. He was one of the first employees at GO Corp., an early entrant in the tablet space which crashed in the mid-1990s. He also worked on Microsoft’s Windows CE mobile operating system.

When the iPad came out, Isaac said he was amazed with nearly every aspect of the device, except for the keypad.

“Typing on the iPad was certainly much better than anything that had come before, but it still wasn’t great,” Isaac tells GeekWire. “But I wanted typing to be great, so I could use my iPad for everything. So I started thinking about a way to add the missing tactile features needed to have a true high performance typing experience on the iPad.”

He started prototyping concepts, which he said proved challenging because he’s “basically a software guy.” After the initial concepts penciled out, Isaac partnered with Melmon to come up with a patent-pending design.

“We needed to provide the right sort of force resistance for typing to feel really good, and at the same time make the device be thin, lightweight and flexible enough to basically disappear in the cover when not in use,” Isaac explained. “Brad had an amazing conceptual breakthrough that allowed us to meet all of these requirements, and TouchFire is the result.”

Here are some more photos of the TouchFire keypad.

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  • Anonymous

    I personally don’t see the value of a hardware solution to this problem. Yes, it seems easy to add and remove, but it’s only worth it if you are making posts longer than a tweet or url. I don’t use my ipad for taking notes, writing blog posts, or anything of length so I wouldn’t use it. There is definitely a market for this though!

    I’m a little biased of the tablet typing problem because I’m a former swype employee :) iPad still needs it!

    • JunkerToney

      I take A LOT of notes with my iPad and travel from office to office frequently for my work. I’m excited to get one of these because it’ll fit right inside my cover and I don’t have to lug around another keyboard to keep my fingers happy!

  • hitlad

    Is dragging out an å or a ç also easy?  It seems like the choices will lie underneath the overlay and so would be difficult to see and access.  It’s the one factor that makes me hesitate since I do use those characters a bit.

  • Jason Gerard Clauss

    Or you could just get an ASUS EEE Transformer which kicks the ass off the iTampon.

    • Robert Nieboer

      You’re funny! You almost sounded like you meant that. You sounded exactly like those Apple haters who have never used Apple products themselves. Well done!

      • Jason Gerard Clauss

        Except I use a Mac laptop…

      • Jason Gerard Clauss

        Except I use a Mac laptop…

  • Jason Gerard Clauss

    Or you could just get an ASUS EEE Transformer which kicks the ass off the iTampon.

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