It was the epitome of sci-fi gadgetry. In Minority Report, Tom Cruise, playing a cop who fights crimes that are to take place in the future, gestures into the air like an orchestra conductor wearing a space glove--only he's calling up computer images that float before him in holographic splendor.
That far-out vision of computing may be coming to a PC near you sooner than you think. A company called FingerWorks has developed a computer keyboard that lets you complete such simple functions as clicking, scrolling and dragging by gesturing or moving your fingers across a new type of touch-and motion-sensitive surface.
The first thing you notice about the Touchstream keyboard ($339 at finger works. com) is that the keys aren't really keys at all but a flat surface that responds to the slightest touch. Because there are no real keys, it takes less effort to type. The surface doubles as a mouse touchpad--but one that makes the current technology look oh so '90s. To double-click, for example, you simply place your three middle fingertips anywhere on the keypad and tap lightly once. To open a file, you place your first four fingertips on the keypad (leaving your pinkie in the air), then rotate your hand to the left. To close the file, you swing the same fingertips over to the right. There are more simple maneuvers for scrolling, zooming, cutting and pasting.
Ordinary touchpads found on many notebook computers can detect only a single finger at a time. By contrast, the Touchstream uses special sensors developed by FingerWorks founders John Elias and Wayne Westerman that can tell exactly how many fingers are touching the surface and the direction they are moving in. This gives the device a much broader range of functions than ordinary touchpads.
Once you master the finger acrobatics, the Touchstream offers huge advantages, as it's more comfortable to have the keyboard and mouse functions all in the same place. In addition, you don't waste time reaching for the mouse every few seconds. User surveys by the company indicate that the Touchstream may help reduce repetitive-strain injuries and increase productivity. We found it to be a lot more fun than mousing around.