Despite the meteoric rise of the modern word processor, our nostalgia for typewriters has never completely disappeared, with typewriters themselves more ubiquitous than many people would believe, and a host of dedicated typewriter fonts available on modern word processing software to connect us with the past. While computerised typewriter-style fonts are utilitarian, they cannot provide the tactile and acoustic pleasure of using an actual manual typewriter. All of this is set to change in the near future through the exciting invention of two digital typewriter gadgets known as the Freewrite and the Qwerkywriter. Soon technophiles will be able to experience the actual sensory pleasure of a manual typewriter, without sacrificing any modern conveniences.
The first of these devices, the Freewrite, is a distraction-free cloud-connected word processor with a mechanical keyboard and e-paper screen. It was invented by software developer Patrick Paul, and graduate of mechanical engineering at MIT, Adam Leeb. Originally called the Hemingwrite, its production has been funded by a Kickstarter web-based fundraising campaign launched in December 2014. By the end of January this year the campaign had successfully surpassed its target of $250,000 USD, raising a total of $342,471 USD with 1,096 backers.
The beauty of the Freewrite is that it is a simple, dedicated, retro-style word processor, free from games, social media, email, YouTube and a host of other distractions, allowing the user to focus solely on writing. It has a four-week battery life and is housed in lightweight aluminium. Documents typed on the Freewrite are synced to the cloud in real time and work is automatically backed up. The Freewrite can also be configured to automatically sync documents to Dropbox, Google Docs and Evernote via Wi-Fi. There are no complicated menus or toolbars on the device – just a clean slate, emulating the experience of using a typewriter. The device is due to be released in the American autumn of this year.
The Qwerkywriter, also funded via Kickstarter, was designed by videogame developer Brian Min in vintage typewriter style. It comprises a Bluetooth mechanical keyboard with round keys, and is compatible with Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux. The Qwerkywriter is designed to emulate the sound and feel of a typewriter, with tactile and audio feedback provided via each keystroke. This sensory stimulation is designed to promote thought and accuracy. Models can be pre-ordered now for $329 USD and their estimated shipping date is from early October to November 2015.
While the Freewrite and the Qwerkywriter may be viewed as newfangled devices, perhaps the most exciting typewriter invention of recent years is the USB Typewriter by Jack Zylkin, a self-proclaimed hacker/engineer/designer from Philadelphia, USA. The USB Typewriter kit sold by Mr Zylkin allows you to convert almost any manual typewriter into a computer keyboard or iPad dock, by adding a USB port via hidden circuitry in the undercarriage of your old typewriter. This means that you are able to use your typewriter to create and save a document to your word processing software, or type directly onto paper while still recording your keystrokes to a computer. Modern keys such as Backspace, Control, Alt, Cmd and ‘Fn’ keys are built-in allowing a complete complement of modern functions; it works with tablets that have the “USB On-The-Go” feature, some smartphones and with laptops. The kit can be purchased either pre-assembled or as a solder-it-yourself electronics package. Mr Zylkin also offers a range of restored and USB-enabled typewriters that are often sold out. A new and improved version of the typewriter circuitry is currently under development, featuring an SD card slot for storage and optional Bluetooth radio. These kits are expected to be available this month.
As modern technology becomes more powerful, people appear to be becoming less productive due to a myriad of distractions. Typewriters have many advantages including sensory feedback, portability, security, and single-purpose use. The current market for digital (and digitally converted) typewriters is therefore unsurprising, and it makes sense that resources are being pooled for the design and production of these vintage-inspired, but nonetheless very practical machines.