Nemeio, a new brand under French tech conglomerate LDLC, has taken the concept of a customizable software keyboard to whole new heights. At the annual CES Unveiled showcase here in Las Vegas, the company showed off an E Ink keyboard, which is yet to be officially named, that can be customized key by key. Nemeio imagines the market for such a device includes bilingual travelers or those who cross time zones and language barriers often for work, as well as anyone who’s ever wanted all the power of Apple’s MacBook Pro Touch Bar in a full keyboard interface.
If you happen to be a keyboard or CES aficionado, you also might remember Razer’s ill-fated Switchblade, a concept keyboard from 2011 that tried to pull off the same thing in full color and for a gaming-specific audience. (It never really panned out, but it did make its way to Razer’s Blade laptop line in smaller form.) Another failed project in this area includes the Art Lebedev Optimus line, which began pushing the idea of configurable keyboard displaysnearly a decade ago. This Nemeio one is chasing the same dream, but it looks like it might actually ship.
We tried a working version of Nemeio’s keyboard here on the show floor, and the switching mechanism operated rather seamlessly as we rotated through a preset carousel of configurations, though it was a tad laggy. Naturally, there was a French keyboard setup, as well as a QWERTY one. Nemeio also set up one specifically for Adobe Photoshop, which included the toolbar commands in place of the number keys. You can also customize the keyboard’s function row to automatically launch apps and websites.
The device connects to a Mac or PC via Bluetooth, or you can simply plug it in. There will also be a desktop app that lets you drag and drop icons to whatever keys you prefer with the option to build app and language-specific presets you can switch between using two physical buttons on the top of the device.
While it’s certainly a neat idea, the keyboard had some issues. It had very poor travel, making it difficult to type accurately at the speed at which you might use a standard Apple or laptop keyboard. Not helping on that front is each key essentially being a distinct display module, as the materials used to make that happen also made it harder to punch the keys than a standard keyboard.
Granted, I was using a prototype device here at CES, but the company says the product design is finalized, so I don’t expect much to improve in the way of key material, travel, and other physical characteristics that made it a drag to type on.
That said, the concept here is certainly interesting and it’s something I could see being attractive with more refined hardware design down the line. Nemeio says it plans to start shipping the device sometime this summer for anywhere between $300 and $500. It hasn’t yet figured out a price point, but $500 would is an incredibly tough sell.
Still, E Ink devices are few and far between, and the technology still has a ton of untapped potential beyond your standard e-reader — just look at what the official E Ink Corporation is trying with color displays and near-zero latency ones. So while I wouldn’t personally buy the Nemeio keyboard, I hope it helps pave the way for a better customizable keyboard down the line.