One of the most surprising products that we have encountered at Computex this year comes from gaming peripheral manufacturer Rocat. Called Power-Grid, it was first unveiled a few months ago at Cebit in Germany, but at Computex Roccat actually has the software running and was able to give us an extensive live demonstration of how the product works.
Power-Grid is a fascinating concept. It is an Android or iOS App designed to connect to a suite of PC software and allow control of a myriad functions on your PC. It is extensively customisable and best of all it will be free when it arrives on the App store and Google Play in the coming months.
What the App does is truly amazing. Not only can you completely configure the information displayed, but you can mix everything from web links to PC audio control into the interface. The actual interface configuration is done via the PC software, and settings are saved to the cloud so that you can easily move between different PCs and still use the App.
The idea for Power-Grid came from the fact that Roccat is a company made up of hardcore gamers. When running a game in full-screen mode so much information is hidden and not easily accessible. Not only that, but playing online often involves using several software suites - voice communications programs like Skype or Teamspeak as well as instant messaging and other programs. The problem with this is that in order to interact with these programs you need to minimise the game, which is a less than ideal situation. Rather than integrate a touch screen directly into a keyboard, Roccat looked to the proliferation of smartphones as the solution and decided to make the most of the computing power sitting in most people's pockets.
As the App took shape more and more features were added. It can now display real time readouts of system performance, which show just how much strain your gaming is putting on your system. It also incorporated volume control, allowing you to adjust individual program volume without having to minimise your game.
It may seem strange that a gaming hardware company is making so much noise about a free App, but the really interesting thing is the way that it hooks into future physical products. Roccat is working on a new keyboard called the Phobo, which is designed with an integrated smartphone docking system. Just remove the number pad and you can then add a dock designed for iPhone/iPod Touch or one of the most popular models of Android phone.
When you dock your phone it not only charges, but also pairs with the keyboard via bluetooth (the keyboard itself is a wired model, with bluetooth purely for hooking up with smartphones). If you plug a set of headphones into the ports on the keyboard you can then answer calls through them via the push of a button. The keyboard itself can also act as a bluetooth keyboard for the phone.
This Phobos keyboard should emerge later this year, and thanks to the inclusion of bluetooth, mechanical keys and an integrated USB soundcard that enables the call making functions it wont be cheap. But Roccatt also plans to release a cheaper version later on, which replaces the mechanical switches with conventional membrane keys.
While not on display at the show, this mockup image shows the intended design for the Phobo keyboard.