'It could be productivity heaven:' CES techno buffs get a grip on Cincinnati-born TREWGrip keyboard

CINCINNATI - A handheld keyboard invented by a Cincinnati entrepreneur generated serious buzz at the 2014 International CES expo in Las Vegas Jan. 7-10.

The TREWGrip QWERTY keyboard for mobile devices was one of 17 products named as a finalist for the “Best of CES” awards presented by the influential technology website Engadget. That’s quite an honor considering that approximately 20,000 new devices were unveiled by the 3,200+ exhibitors at CES. Formerly known as the “Consumer Electronics Show,” the 2014 International CES is now a global stage for all types of innovations.

At a booth in the CES Eureka Park area for soon-to-be-released products, inventor Mark Parker demonstrated the TREWGrip keyboard to dozens of reporters, bloggers, technology industry analysts, potential business partners, and gadget enthusiasts. He also talked about TREWGrip at a media event before CES officially opened.

“When they pick it up and use it a little bit, people really seem to understand it and how it might be applicable in different industries," Parker said. "When they really understand why we created it, they see it as a practical solution to a very real problem.”

The company introduced the TREWGrip keyboard to Cincinnati last July by hosting the Ultimate Typing Challenge at the Museum Center.

How TREWGrip works

TREWGrip is a gently curved, easy-to-carry adaptation of the traditional flat QWERTY keyboard. (QWERTY represents the first six keys on the top left letter row of the keyboard, read from left to right).The layout is split in half with the keys rotated so they face away from the screen.

Without taking your eyes off the screen on your mobile device (or the person you’re talking to), your fingers can continuously type interview notes or observations. When a typing key is pressed, letters light up on the front of the TREWGrip keyboard to assure you that your hands are properly positioned and you are pressing the intended keys.

TREWGrip's developers tout it as a faster alternative to typing with the touchscreen on a smartphone or mini-tablet. It can also be used with any Bluetooth-enabled computing device.

For example: While gripping the keyboard in your hands like a video-game controller, you can lean back in your office chair in front of a desktop PC, write long reports in a cramped airline seat, or relax on the couch while interacting with a Smart TV. The keyboard is small enough to toss in your backpack and write your thoughts on your smartphone wherever inspiration strikes.

An idea born in the field

Parker believes TREWGrip can be particularly helpful in healthcare settings that are transitioning to electronic records. Instead of taking notes manually during a patient visit, a doctor or nurse can enter notes without losing eye contact with the patient.

The inventor used to develop software for companies that inspected homes for real estate sales or government agencies that regulated day care centers and nursing homes. He saw that many inspectors made handwritten notes, then went back their cars or offices to type their notes. This extra step reduced the efficiency advantages of carrying a mobile reporting device from site to site.

Parker said health care professionals similarly take notes by hand then spend extra hours at a computer documenting their activities and observations. Voice recognition systems are still prone to errors, he added, and must be edited on the computer.

The challenge for TREWGrip LLC now? Persuading people to think differently about typing and convincing them to give the rear-facing keyboard a try.

Someone who is so good at typing on a flat keyboard that he or she never looks at the keys will likely adapt to TREWGrip typing fairly quickly. The keys are essentially in the same order as on a flat QWERTY keyboard.

Parker predicts hunt-and-peck typists on a touchscreen keyboard will have a steeping learning curve. Parker said a user can reach 90 to 100 percent of his or her regular typing speed after about 8 to 10 hours of practice on the TREWGrip. To ease the transition, TREWGrip has published a website with training exercises and games.

"Some serious potential"

Exhibiting at CES 2014 was a bit overwhelming, Parker said. For two or three days after the press event, company representatives were bombarded with media questions.

“Most people were really interested in the uniqueness of the device," he said. "That’s really what people come to CES for: to see the cutting edge or the technology that will hit the market within the next year.”

Initial online reviews posted during the show were favorable:

“We think TREWGrip may be the best thing that happened to the 7 inch tablet,” observed blogger Brent Fishman of TechFaster.

Michael Andonico of LAPTOP wrote that “We spent a few minutes re-learning how to type on this wireless Bluetooth device, and saw some serious potential.”

A commenter on Wired’s Gadget Lab blog likened the TREWGrip

to an “iPad with wings.” On Phandroid, Rob Jackson wrote: “Laugh if you want, but TREWGrip’s accordion-style tablet keyboard could be productivity heaven.”

At CES, Parker also met representatives from companies that might make good strategic business partners for TREWGrip.

The company expects to begin low-volume production of TREWGrip for early adopters and strategic partners in early 2014. TREWGrip is expected to be in full production by the end of the year.

TREWGrip is headquartered in Blue Ash and is a spin-off of Outlier Technologies, an idea accelerator that focuses on mobile software and hardware technology. TREWGrip’s ultimate goal is to create a new classification of mobile technology called “grippables.”

Conntect with WCPO Contributor Eileen Fritsch via Twitter: @EileenFritsch .

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