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Microsoft’s new Start menu: an eInk screen on the keyboard

Microsoft Display Cover

Is this what Surface keyboards of the future will look like?

Microsoft Research has unveiled a novel new keyboard design that sees the Windows Start menu and other functions transferred to an eInk screen that sits above the regular QWERTY keys. The concept design could conceivably be used on devices such as the Microsoft Surface, allowing the limited screen space to be devoted entirely to applications rather than menus.

The DisplayCover is a letterbox-shaped, touchscreen eInk panel that has many different functions. When the user is on the Windows desktop, for example, the screen displays tiles for installed applications, allowing users to open Word, Internet Explorer etc. without having to access the regular Start menu or Taskbar. 

When applications are opened, the DisplayCover hosts shortcuts or menu items for that specific application. In Photoshop, for instance, it allows the user to select different brushes without having to bother with the application’s toolbars, which are often fiddly to use on small tablet-sized displays.

The eInk panel can even be used to run applications itself. The video demonstrates someone sending an email from the eInk screen whilst leaving their Skype session running full-screen on the LCD display, meaning they don’t have to interrupt or resize their video call to send a message.

The DisplayCover also doubles as a large touchpad, allowing users to pinch and zoom when viewing maps or horizontally scroll across the page using a two-fingered swipe. It also accepts handwriting input from a stylus, meaning users can write on a flat surface rather than at an awkward angle on the screen itself. 

Right now, the 1,280 x 305 resolution Display Cover is nothing more than a working prototype dreamed up by the Microsoft Applied Sciences Group. It’s almost certainly too embryonic to make it into the Surface Pro 4 which is due out this autumn, but it’s a concept to keep an eye out for in later launches. 

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