How Does a Virtual Keyboard Work?

By Michael Batton Kaput

If you use a smartphone, netbook or portable computing device and long for a full-sized keyboard, virtual keyboards might just be the solution. Virtual keyboards, both touchscreen and laser-projected varieties, give you fully functioning typing capabilities without required you to lug around a physical peripheral device. If you own an iPad or device with similar capabilities, you already have a virtual keyboard built into your device. You can also purchase several varieties online.


Virtual keyboards are nonphysical keyboards that produce text on the screen of an electronic device through the device user tapping virtual keys either displayed on the device's screen or projected via laser onto a flat surface. Virtual keyboards that project light onto a flat surface are sometimes also referred to as "projected keyboards." These keyboards can provide a significant advantage to those who require a full-sized keyboard to type on a smartphone or netbook or for devices that only use touch screens (such as the Apple iPad) but still provide users with typing capabilities.

Laser and Sensors on a Virtual Projected Keyboard

Virtual keyboards that project a picture of keys on a flat surface work a little differently from virtual touchscreen keyboards. Laser-projected keyboards employ additional sensors that project a field, often only a few millimeters, parallel to the image projected on the surface. When your fingers disrupt areas of this field, the projected keyboard identifies the key you typed and communicates that information to your computer, which then represents the keystroke on its screen.

Virtual Touchscreen Keyboards

Virtual touchscreen keyboards employ the same idea as projected keyboards but without the laser. Beneath the surface of the touchscreen, your device detects changes in the voltage when your fingers touch the screen. Depending on the change in voltage and the location of the change, the device then determines which button you touched or which key you tapped.

Advantages and Limitations

Both virtual projected keyboards and virtual touchscreen keyboards can provide a great advantage to those who need a full-sized keyboard on the go. Not only are projected and touchscreen keyboards lighter, they take up less, or no, additional space. However, neither type of virtual keyboard provides the same experience of typing and feeling the keys physically respond, which can be disorienting for some people. With virtual projected keyboards, you won't be able to type on anything other than a flat surface. You also can't rest your hands on either type of keyboard while you think of what to type; by doing so, you could type a string of nonsensical letters.