We’ve already posted about the iPad as a second display for a MacBook. The contraption is interesting and reliable but cumbersome and requires an iPad in addition to the MacBook. Besides, working with two displays is a trick to learn and you risk to develop a divergent squint in the process. But tethering a tablet is not the only option. Really, I don’t know why Apple is so touchy about touch screens, but their reluctance leaves the door open for other innovating companies.
And engineers from Neonode company has stood in for the fruit corporation and introduced Airbar to change your MacBook experience forever.
Let’s go tech for a while. It doesn’t hurt, promise. Touchscreen is literally an electromagnetic field generated by a metal grid beneath the screen. When we enter the field with our finger we disturb it the way a fly disturbs the spider’s web. The special detector, also housed beneath the screen, catches the disturbances and respond to the action: zoom or swipe or whatever. That’s why touch screens are also called sensor screens, because they “sense” the touch.
There’s only one condition: an object must conduct electricity. Human flesh can conduct electricity and so can specially designed styluses with conductors in them.
More advanced screens, though, feature infrared heat sensitive sensors rimming the display. If your smartphone has such a technology, you can work with your gloves on. Besides, from the point of view of engineering, it’s easier to recreate in other environments. The “web” is formed not by metal wires but by infrared invisible rays. When interrupted by an object, for example, your finger, they bring out the software or function: press the icon, zoom the window and so on. Infrared sensors allow you to control the system with gestures. It’s a step up in touch technologies.
Now, you can’t tear down your MacBook Air to insert these sensors. But if you can’t go under- go beyond. And Neonode did just that. Neonode‘s zForce AIR™ technology is based upon projecting infrared light over the screen. The task is performed by AlwaysOn™ sensors. It takes only a nice housing for the infrared light source to crack the problem. Something slim, reliable and with a good grip to stay in place during the work.
The solution is as simple as it is elegant.
Airbar looks like a… bar of black matte finished plastic, really, a slim strip magnetically attached at the bottom of a PC’s display, with a USB power cable. The manual is very simple: remove the protection film from the magnets at the back of the Airbar and attach it in the bottom of the screen. Then plug it into a free powered USB socket. Mind that, Airbar needs no drivers or software. No installation, tuning or tweaking. The only issue that might take place is the absence of a USB socket on the right side of your laptop, for the USB wire protrudes from the right end of the Airbar.
In such case a USB extending cable will help. Once attached and plugged into the USB port, the sensor is activated and starts to emit infrared light to detect the user’s touch and gestures. The light field, Airbar radiates, reacts to any disturbance or other words – your touch or gesture.
AirBar supports Windows 8 and 10 gestures as well as all other touch actions: swiping, pinching, tapping, zooming. And what’s more, you can do it with a gloved hand, with paintbrush, anything. macOS doesn’t fully support the new device, Apple announces, but the only way to find out is to plug and try.
There’re only two problems with using an Airbar. First, you can’t close your laptop with the device on. It’s slim but not that slim, unfortunately. So, you’ll have to rip it off every time you close your notebook. With iMacs this is irrelevant, of course. Second, your PC has to have enough space for the bar below the screen. For now, Airbar fits Macbook Air perfectly, though.
And this is the point, really. To ensure the flawless performance, the Airbar has to fit the screen size perfectly for infrared grid to cover the whole screen. If the Airbar is shorter than the horizontal rim of the display, the performance is lousy at best. This brings up an interesting question. Supposed, your laptop screen has a wide enough vertical rim, like my Asus does, will Airbar work when placed vertically? It might. Really, I can’t see any reason it won’t.
For now, the company offers Airbars for 13.3”,14” and 15.6” screens, and this shrinks the list of compatible devices down to laptops, especially MacBooks. You can’t use the Airbar on a widescreen desktop display. On the other hand, the Airbar that long will require more power a USB socket can provide.
My opinion is, this device is very handy. In an era, when even TVs are controlled with gestures, PCs with ordinary screens just fall behind. Of course, they won’t leave the scene any time soon, because too many people are still very partial to the feeling of keys being pressed, but a touch or two can come in very helpful, indeed.
Airbar is available for pre-order, it’s price will be about $100. I’m thinking about buying this gimmick myself.
- Display Size Supported: 13.3”,14”, 15.6”, with an aspect ratio of 16:9.
- Width: 5 mm.
- Length: 373 mm (AirBar 15.6”).
- Height: 17 mm (requires 20 mm mounting surface for 3 mm between AirBar and display).
- Cable length: 243 mm.
- Weight: 55 g.
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Neonode Air Bar. Source of the photograph: www.air.bar