What is a Virtual Keyboard? All You Need to Know

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is a Virtual Keyboard? All You Need to Know (2023)

What is a Virtual Keyboard?

Have you ever wondered what a virtual keyboard is, and how it has revolutionized the way we interact with our devices? From smartphones to healthcare settings, virtual keyboards have transformed communication and input methods in various industries.

In this blog post, we will delve into the world of virtual keyboards, their advantages, and how they can be accessed and used across different devices and operating systems. Get ready to discover the incredible versatility and potential of virtual keyboards.

Summary

  • Where physical keyboards have real buttons, most virtual keyboards use touchscreens. For instance, the keyboard on your smartphone is a virtual keyboard.

  • However, there are many more types of virtual keyboards, like voice recognition, gesture-based controls, and brain-computer interfaces.

  • There are many use cases. For instance, in gaming (an Xbox doesn’t have a keyboard), or in cybersecurity (where on-screen keyboards can avoid keyloggers).

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Understanding Virtual Keyboards

Gone are the days when keyboards were limited to physical keys on clunky hardware. Virtual keyboards have emerged as a popular alternative, offering a more versatile and user-friendly experience. These software-based keyboards use touchscreens or other input devices to enable users to type characters and words without the constraints of a traditional keyboard.

So what makes virtual keyboards so unique? Let’s dive deeper into the definition, purpose, and types of virtual keyboards.

Definition and Purpose

A virtual keyboard, often referred to as an on-screen keyboard, is a software-based keyboard that appears on a display device, such as a computer monitor or a smartphone screen. Unlike physical keyboards, virtual keyboards do not require users to press any physical keys. Instead, they offer a more accessible and convenient way of typing and interacting with devices through touchscreens, styluses, or other pointing devices.

Virtual keyboards have become increasingly popular due to their versatility and ease of use. They serve as an alternative input method for people who may struggle with traditional keyboards, allowing them to enter text and navigate through computer systems more easily. In some cases, virtual keyboards can even be used with advanced input devices, such as headmice or eyemice, which enable users to control the keyboard using head movements or eye blinks.

Types of Virtual Keyboards

There are several types of virtual keyboards available, catering to different user preferences and needs. The most common type is the on-screen keyboard, which appears directly on a device’s screen, allowing users to type by tapping on the virtual keys. On-screen keyboards are particularly useful for touchscreen devices, as they eliminate the need for any external hardware.

Another type of virtual keyboard is the projection-based keyboard, which projects an image of a keyboard onto a flat surface, enabling users to type by tapping on the projected keys. This innovative technology offers a convenient and portable alternative to traditional keyboards.

Additionally, there are brain-computer interface (BCI) keyboards, which use a BCI system to help patients with severe disabilities communicate by focusing on specific symbols projected on a screen. These advanced virtual keyboards showcase the potential of technology to enhance communication and accessibility for a wide range of users.

Advantages of Using a Virtual Keyboard

Embracing virtual keyboards comes with numerous advantages over their physical counterparts. From accessibility features to customization options and enhanced security, virtual keyboards offer a myriad of benefits that cater to various user needs.

Let’s delve into some of these advantages.

Accessibility Features

One of the most significant benefits of virtual keyboards is their ability to cater to users with disabilities or mobility issues. These keyboards offer advanced typing and navigation features that can be customized according to individual preferences and requirements. For instance, virtual keyboards can provide larger key sizes, voice recognition, and gesture-based controls, making them more accessible to a diverse range of users.

Furthermore, virtual keyboards can be used in conjunction with other accessibility features and technologies, such as screen readers and alternative input devices, to create an inclusive and user-friendly computing environment for everyone. This adaptability and versatility make virtual keyboards an essential tool for promoting digital accessibility and inclusion.

Customization Options

Another advantage of virtual keyboards is the plethora of customization options they offer. Users can resize and reposition the keyboard on their screen, ensuring it fits their needs and preferences. This flexibility can be particularly useful for users who may require larger keys or a specific keyboard layout to accommodate their typing style or physical limitations.

Moreover, virtual keyboards enable users to customize their key layout, adding extra features such as macros, shortcuts, and language-specific characters. This level of personalization allows users to tailor their virtual keyboard experience, enhancing their overall efficiency and productivity.

Enhanced Security

In today’s digital world, security is a top priority for many users. Virtual keyboards offer an added layer of protection against keyloggers and other malicious software by eliminating the need for physical keystrokes. Since keyloggers typically rely on capturing keystrokes from a traditional keyboard, virtual keyboards can help prevent the theft of sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and personal data.

Furthermore, virtual keyboards can be used in conjunction with other security measures, such as two-factor authentication and encryption, to provide a comprehensive and robust security solution for users. This combination of enhanced security features ensures that users can confidently navigate the digital world without compromising their personal information.

How to Access and Use a Virtual Keyboard

Now that we’ve explored the benefits of virtual keyboards, you might be wondering how to access and use one on your device. Whether you’re using a Windows computer, a macOS device, or a smartphone, accessing and using a virtual keyboard is a simple and straightforward process.

Let’s take a closer look at how to get started with virtual keyboards on different devices and operating systems.

Windows

To access and use the On-Screen Keyboard in Windows, simply open the Start menu and search for “On-Screen Keyboard.” Once you find the application, click on it to launch the virtual keyboard on your screen. The Windows On-Screen Keyboard offers a range of options for customization and accessibility, such as click sound, display keys for easier navigation, numeric keypad, clicking on keys, hovering over keys, scanning through keys, and even using text prediction.

Using the On-Screen Keyboard in Windows is as easy as using a physical keyboard. You can use either your mouse or another pointing device to select keys. Alternatively, you can use a single key or group of keys on your physical keyboard to cycle through the keys that appear on the screen. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that using a virtual keyboard in Windows is a breeze.

macOS

For macOS users, accessing and using a virtual keyboard is just as simple. To get started, open the Apple menu and select System Preferences. From there, click on Accessibility and then select Keyboard. Finally, click on the On-Screen Keyboard option, and the virtual keyboard will appear on your screen.

The macOS virtual keyboard offers a user-friendly experience, allowing you to type and navigate with ease. You can customize the keyboard’s size and layout to suit your preferences, ensuring a comfortable and efficient typing experience.

The macOS virtual keyboard is a valuable tool for users who require an alternative input method or simply prefer the convenience of an on-screen keyboard.

Mobile Devices

For smartphone and tablet users, virtual keyboards are often the default input method. Both Android and iOS devices come equipped with built-in virtual keyboards that can be accessed and used with ease. To access the virtual keyboard on your mobile device, simply open an app that requires text input, such as a messaging app or a web browser, and tap on the text field. The virtual keyboard will automatically appear, allowing you to type using the touchscreen.

In addition to the built-in virtual keyboards, there are numerous third-party virtual keyboard apps available for download on both Android and iOS platforms. These apps offer a range of customization options and additional features, such as predictive text, auto-correct, and support for multiple languages. With so many options available, finding the perfect virtual keyboard for your mobile device has never been easier.

Alternative Input Methods

While virtual keyboards offer numerous advantages and have become increasingly popular, they are not the only input method available. Alternative input methods, such as voice recognition, gesture-based controls, and brain-computer interfaces, offer unique ways to interact with devices and applications.

Let’s take a closer look at these innovative input methods and how they can complement or even replace virtual keyboards.

Voice Recognition

Voice recognition technology has come a long way in recent years, allowing users to interact with their devices using spoken language. From controlling smart home devices to dictating text messages, voice recognition has become an integral part of our daily lives. This technology is particularly beneficial for individuals with physical or motor disabilities who may struggle to use a traditional keyboard and mouse.

Despite its numerous advantages, voice recognition technology does have some limitations. For example, it may struggle to accurately interpret certain accents or function correctly in noisy environments. However, ongoing advancements in voice recognition technology continue to improve its accuracy and versatility, making it an increasingly viable alternative to traditional input methods.

Gesture-Based Controls

Gesture-based controls offer another innovative input method, allowing users to interact with their devices using hand movements and body gestures. These controls utilize sensors to detect and interpret physical movements, such as waving, pointing, and tapping, enabling users to control devices without the need for physical contact. This technology has found applications in various industries, from gaming to healthcare, and offers an exciting alternative to traditional input methods.

While gesture-based controls can provide a more immersive and interactive user experience, they also have some drawbacks. For instance, they may require additional hardware or sensors and can be prone to inaccuracies due to environmental factors or user error. Despite these challenges, gesture-based controls continue to gain popularity and show great potential in shaping the future of human-computer interaction.

Brain-Computer Interfaces

Perhaps the most cutting-edge input method currently being explored is brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). These systems enable users to communicate with computers using their brain activity, bypassing the need for physical input devices altogether. BCIs have shown great promise in helping individuals with severe disabilities communicate and interact with their environment, offering a truly revolutionary approach to input and control.

While brain-computer interfaces remain in the early stages of development, their potential applications are vast and exciting. From gaming to healthcare, BCIs have the potential to transform the way we interact with our devices, opening up new possibilities for communication and input that were once the stuff of science fiction.

Virtual Keyboards in Different Industries

The versatility and adaptability of virtual keyboards have led to their widespread adoption across various industries, from healthcare to gaming. In each of these sectors, virtual keyboards have helped improve efficiency, accessibility, and user experience, demonstrating their value as a powerful input method.

Let’s explore some specific examples of how virtual keyboards are making an impact in different industries.

Healthcare

In healthcare settings, virtual keyboards play a crucial role in enhancing patient safety, minimizing medical errors, and streamlining data entry processes. The use of virtual keyboards in hospitals and clinics helps reduce the spread of germs and infections, as they do not require physical contact. This is particularly important in clinical environments, where maintaining a sterile environment is essential for patient health and safety.

In addition to their hygienic benefits, virtual keyboards also offer a range of accessibility features, making them an invaluable tool for healthcare professionals with disabilities or mobility issues. By improving accessibility and promoting a more inclusive work environment, virtual keyboards are helping to ensure that healthcare professionals can focus on providing the best possible care to their patients.

Education

Virtual keyboards have found a home in educational environments, both in classrooms and in remote learning scenarios. They offer a more user-friendly and practical solution for learners who may have difficulty with physical keyboards or lack access to them. In addition, virtual keyboards can support students learning foreign languages by accommodating different character sets and symbols, and they can help protect students’ personal data from keylogging software by providing an extra layer of security.

Furthermore, virtual keyboards can be customized to suit individual needs, adding extra features such as macros, shortcuts, and language-specific characters. This level of personalization allows students to tailor their virtual keyboard experience, enhancing their overall efficiency and productivity. As a result, virtual keyboards have become an essential tool in promoting digital accessibility and inclusion in the world of education.

Gaming

In the gaming industry, virtual keyboards have made significant strides, particularly in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experiences. Gamers often require faster response times, greater accuracy, and the ability to customize their key layout to suit their preferences. Virtual keyboards are well-suited to meet these demands, offering a more immersive and interactive gaming experience.

In addition to traditional gaming setups, virtual keyboards are also finding applications in the rapidly growing world of mobile gaming. The convenience and versatility of virtual keyboards on smartphones and tablets allow gamers to enjoy their favorite games on the go, without the need for additional hardware.

As the gaming industry continues to evolve, virtual keyboards are set to play an increasingly important role in shaping the future of gaming experiences.

Summary

In conclusion, virtual keyboards have revolutionized the way we interact with our devices, offering a versatile and user-friendly alternative to traditional physical keyboards. Their numerous advantages, ranging from accessibility features to customization options and enhanced security, make them invaluable in various industries and professional settings. As technology continues to advance, virtual keyboards, alongside alternative input methods such as voice recognition, gesture-based controls, and brain-computer interfaces, will undoubtedly play a significant role in shaping the future of human-computer interaction. Embrace the potential of virtual keyboards and explore the endless possibilities they offer in transforming the way we communicate and interact with our devices.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is a virtual keyboard used for?

Virtual keyboards are used as an on-screen input method when no physical keyboard is available. This is commonly seen in devices with small form factors, like tablets and smartphones, where typing is still possible through the use of a virtual keyboard.

Typing on a virtual keyboard can be a challenge, as the keys are often smaller than those of a physical keyboard. To make typing easier, many virtual keyboards offer features like a keyboard shortcut.

What is the difference between a virtual keyboard and a physical keyboard?

A physical keyboard is a tangible object composed of mechanical or electrical switches used to input text into a computer. A virtual keyboard, on the other hand, is a software-based tool that appears on the screen when text input is required by the application. It provides a digital representation of a QWERTY keyboard which the user can tap for typing words.

What is an example of a virtual keyboard?

Virtual keyboards are a great way to make typing easier and faster. For example, Gboard is an iOS and Android virtual keyboard created by Google that has translation capabilities, GIFs and customizable themes.

Swype is another popular virtual keyboard that lets you type by swiping your finger across multiple letters in one motion.

How do I find the virtual keyboard on my computer?

To find the virtual keyboard on your computer, go to Start > Settings > Ease of Access >. Keyboard and turn on the toggle under On-Screen Keyboard.

You will then be able to see the virtual keyboard appear on your screen.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor has tested 39 antivirus programs and 30 VPN services, and holds a Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate from Stanford University.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.