Friday, August 23, 2013

Creating a Keyguard for an iProduct/Tablet (learn from my mistakes)

I am an overplanner. It's a characteristic which has generally served me well . . . I overpack (but am rarely unprepared), I'm an excellent troubleshooter (bring me a lesson plan and I'll show you the areas where things may unravel), and I'm a solidly good editor (just don't check this blog too carefully, since I often just think "eh, good enough" and run with it).  So when we decided to try to help Maya switch from a full-sized iPad to a mini iPad and realized that she would need a keyguard (which doesn't exist), I was fairly sure that if I sat and thought about it for long enough, I would be able to create one. And not just create an eh, good enough one, but bang it out of the park on the first swing.

(cue the laughter)

Yeah, it didn't work . . . not initially, anyway. But I did learn a few things, create something decent on the second try, and figure out some tips and tricks that I think would be helpful to any parents/professionals who decide to do something similar on a tablet/phone/iPod.

Maya is using a full communication app called Speak for Yourself. Her talker is an original iPad in an iAdapter case, outfitted with a durable keyguard. The keyguard is a gamechanger for her----preventing a large number of mishits, allowing her to communicate rapidly and accurately.  Here's the problem: the iPad + iAdapter are big. She's a little girl. It's challenging for her to carry the device, to set it up on a table, etc. As soon as I saw the mini iPad and mini iAdapter I knew they would be a much better fit for her----but there was a big problem. Due to the large number (120) of cells in the SFY app, there is just no way for any company to make a plastic keyguard for it---the strips of plastic would be slivers, bound to splinter off.  We waited for a different keyguard to hit the market (sure that someone would design one) . . . but no luck (yet).  Finally, I decided to see what I could figure out on my own, and this is the best that I've been able to do (so far).

mini iPad/case (left), full sized iPad/case (right)

What I used:  screen protector (any old screen protector is just fine), Viva Decor Glass Effect Gel Pen (transparent color), pointy q-tips
This glass effects pen was undoubtedly the perfect choice---it goes on slightly opaque, which allows you to see what you're doing. It dries clear, hard, and without heat . . . so you don't have to be concerned about heating the iPad screen, as you would if you were to use hot glue. It comes in a squeeze bottle and it's not challenging to make lines that vary from fairly thin to pretty thick. It's also very forgiving---easy to wipe up with a fingernail or pointy q-tip if you happen to make a mistake. (Or many mistakes. Not that I would know anything about that.)

Important tip: If you're going to create a keyguard on a screen protector, you must do it after the screen protector has been applied, otherwise you won't be able to smooth out the air bubbles. First apply the screen protector, then you make the keyguard on top of the already applied screen protector.

about to start

This shows how the gel goes on opaque but dries clear. I had applied a second (wet) coat to the half on the left, while the right shows the first (clear, dry) coat.

My Really-Well-Planned-First-Draft-In-Which-I-Made-3-Crucial-Mistakes
Even thought this draft has a few key design flaws, I think the pictures do a good job of illustrating what the keyguard looks and feels like:

The Stuff That I Messed Up

Crucial Mistake #1: Think about every screen configuration, and account for it as best as you can. I tried to do this, but didn't fully succeed. Have a look:

1. If applicable, make sure to leave space open for the slide-to-unlock bar! (I remembered to do that!)

2. If your app contains a scroll-able pop-up screen that always pops up in a fixed location, leave a space open to make scrolling easier. (This is the word finder box in SFY, which always pops up in the upper left hand corner of the app and is scrollable). 

3. Don't forget the keyboard! If your app has an in-app keyboard, take it into consideration. This is where things started to fall apart for us---with one layer of gel, the keyboard looked fine, so I stopped thinking about it. By my fourth (ever widening) layer, many of the keys were obstructed----you could still press them, but you couldn't see what letter you were pressing. Considering that literacy is so essential to AAC users (and, well, everyone) it's not very nice to obstruct the key labels.

Here was the first draft. Oops:
Good luck finding the P, the Y, the . . . well, about half the letters, actually.

 To correct this I had to get a little bit crazy. I ended up building something that slightly resembles a maze, with small openings to account for the letter labels. There was much squinting and muttering during this process.

I did the easy, non-keyboard-involved part first:

And then switched back and forth between the screens to figure out the gaps. I also took a screen shot of the keyguard screen and had it open on my laptop when I was working on the main screen, to make things a bit easier.

*if you've got an eagle eye you may notice that the horizontal lines are slightly higher in this picture that in the original keyboard shot---the reason for that is coming up

4. Think outside the app---what about the main settings page for the iPad? Luckily since the gel is directly on the screen, if you accidentally cover a button that you need to push, you can just push on the gel and it will activate the button (that worked in the first draft picture below). However, if anyone else will need to do any programming or work controls on the device, you might want to keep things as clear, readable, and accessible as possible.

First draft, not very accessible:

Second try, with the "Enable Programming" row cleaned up:

Crucial Mistake #2: If you need to obscure something, obscure pictures---not text. Literacy is the big goal---don't take the words away. In my first draft I tried to follow the lines between the buttons perfectly, but as I added (more aggressive) layers and the lines thickened, some of the text was obscured:


In the second draft I made the horizontal gel lines just slightly above the divide between the buttons. It's hardly noticeable that small amounts of the picture bottoms are missing.

Crucial Mistake #3: Leave space for extra layers. And apply extra layers carefully. Don't get all the-first-one-went-on-so-thin-and-easy-that-I-can-put-this-next-one-on-more-thickly-and-save-time. The time you save in layer application won't seem so sweet when you've accidentally obscured text or buttons and realize you need to start over.

What We've Ended Up With:
I've corrected the mistakes above. It's helpful, but not amazing---Maya would still benefit from something that would prevent more mishits. (She hits buttons with her knuckles while she's reaching for something else with her pointer finger.)  That being said, it's only been a week, and we're going to sit tight and see how much she's able to refine her movements and increase her accuracy. And I'm probably going to add a few more layers.

Happy keyguarding :)


Kelly Van Singel said...

I am so impressed! Awesome job! This is so clever and will be so helpful to many others.

Rachelle said...


We will be getting Tayla on the iPad very soon and this is beyond helpful.

Judith said...

Your solution is amazing. I have another suggestion that would take into account your ingenuity and all the effort you have expended up to this point. What about partnering with someone who has a 3-D printer to make the grid you just designed?

Aileen said...

So clever, its great when you can think outside the box !

Anonymous said...

Great! Creating out of necessity and so wonderful when it's successful.

Kate said...

Good idea. Does SFY have a hold or debounce setting? If it does you probably are using it, but thought I would mention it. Also some kiddos do best with a fine tipped stylus, adapted or unadapted if knuckles get in the way.

Anonymous said...

If knuckles are in the way, a set of fingerless gloves works wonders for people who can tollerate them. Great job! I will keep this in mind!
SLP in CO.

Val said...

Is this still the final design or have you made more adjustments? My 6 year old is getting his mini tonight for his birthday.

Dana said...

Val---this is the final. I actually made a template for it and uploaded it into the "files" section of the Speak for Yourself User's Group on FB. You can get it here:

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