I've always enjoyed playing with consumer electronic devices but I've yet to design an interface for one. I worked on a touch-screen system for the New York Stock Exchange but never a consumer product. Recently I was toying with some concepts for a PDA/Phone with a dynamic keyboard display.
The idea is fairly simple but powerful. Rather then have a screen and keyboard you instead extend the screen bellow what would normally be the keyboard and use soft transparent buttons as the keys. To the user it still appears to be a plain old screen and keyboard but the advantage is you can dynamically change the keys.
This allows you to alter the face of the keyboard based on the mode that the user is in. In this example when the user is entering text they get a primarily text based input keys but if they are entering a telephone number they can either dial the number, choose a photo of one of their friends or spell out the number if needed (1800-flowers for example).
- Hard buttons provide tactile feedback (no touchscreen keyboards please)
- Buttons are in-sync with the UI so you know what options and buttons are available
- The same hardware can be used in multiple locals so you don't have to have region specific keyboards
- Type feedback - as you type the letters that are unlikely to create words can be dimmed out.
- Richer UI for application development, Calendar, Contacts and other apps could be enhanced. (Think Nintendo-DS ideas in a phone)
- Larger keys in a smaller space. Because the keys are dynamic you can use larger keys without all the extra text. This makes the keyboard easier to read and use.
The idea was partly inspired by the Optimus keyboard concept. Although the design intent, platform and implementation would be very different the idea of dynamic keys is fairly powerful regardless of the platform.