iPod bag/Fabric keyboard

Connectivity is the cornerstone of computing. Most processes both in your computer and between computers travel across metal cabling, and always have.

It’s only now Bluetooth has taken hold in the consumer mindset that we even consider how electronics communicate, and the G-Tech product range has introduced a whole new angle — connectivity through nothing but fabric.

It works using a layer of touch-sensitive cells that transmit a position of applied pressure on its surface. The pressure will mostly be your finger pressed against a button printed on the surface of the fabric.

So it reports the ‘button’ pressed to a processor that acts in turn — the same way your PC keyboard reacts to the pressure on the back plate beneath the keys. The difference is that there are no wires, no cables, no plastic and no metal — it’s all a strip of fabric that you can scrunch up, dip in water or similarly mistreat.

The market for such technology seems broad at first glance — a simple strip of material could theoretically replace every cable in an electronic device. So The West put the system through its paces in two G-Tech products to see if fabric is the new superconductor.

First was the fabric keyboard, designed to bridge the gap between devices too small to type on and the need to send email or take long notes on them.

It unfurls from around the base to the size of a regular keyboard and transmits to your PDA via Bluetooth. Pairing the keyboard was as easy as any other device and we were typing in seconds. There’s a split second of lag that’s initially disconcerting rather than annoying, although it affects usability more the faster you type.

Notably absent is the feedback you’re used to when the keys of a PC — or even a phone — spring back after contact. But the biggest limitation of the Fabric keyboard is compatibility. G-Tech produce software for use on some of the most popular mobile device operating systems, but when we attempted to load it onto a HP iPAQ — a major brand PDA — there was no software available.

Far more suited to the technology is the iPod bag. It’s a robust, attractive and seemingly everyday backpack with plenty of pockets and zippers to please even the most demanding hiker or rider.

Nestled in the back of the bag are two connectors that go into the power and headphones jacks on your iPod. They transmit to the left strap, where you connect your headphones and control the iPod via the buttons on the strap itself. Inside is the same pressure-sensitive fabric strip sending commands back to the iPod.

With simpler controls than a keyboard and the all-weather nature of its components, the technology is more at home in a backpack than a keyboard, where it faces something of a usability hurdle.

But who knows — the more devices we use the more flexible we’ll be with the input mechanisms they require, and the humble cotton plant might be the hot new tech item to watch.

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