Switchblade UI

By Blue2k on Sunday 06 January 2013 21:34 - Comments (2)
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I'm not sure how familiar people are with the company Razer, but I've been a fan of them for quite a while now. I'll spare you the list of mice, keyboards and other peripherals from Razer that I own but it definitely is north of ten. Razer has been expanding into new markets lately with controllers, tablets and even notebooks. One of their technologies called Switchblade UI was of particular interest to me. As a geek and with a career focused on software development, customization is high on my list of desired features.


Switchblade resembles the regular touchpad found on most laptops but takes it to the next level. It basically adds an LCD screen underneath the touchpad and allows you to use that screen as an additional display or auxiliary display. Part of the setup are also 10 keys with small LCD screens inside, allowing for additional customization. The keys are reminiscent of the Optmius Maximus keyboard that almost became vaporware a few years ago. The hardware doesn't only come with the Razer Blade laptop, but is also available on a standalone keyboard Razer sells. The touchpad has the size of a Macbook Pro's trackpad and is very responsive. It's better than any trackpad I've ever used that wasn't a Mac. The Macbook Pro still has an advantage here as OSX allows for very tight integration with the trackpad. That's difficult to achieve for Razer as the best they can do is provide a driver for Windows.

Switchblade UI consists of the hardware and some software that allows you to view things like YouTube videos, Facebook,Ttwitter, email and even a (IE-based) browser on the touchpad screen. It also allows you to transform the touchpad into a numpad or take screenshots in-game and preview / organize them. These are the default basic capabilities. Razer also provides an SDK that allows you to create additional apps for the whole setup (touchpad screen and 10 LCD keys).


The SDK provides you with some examples and a DLL that you can include in C++ projects (or communicate to from managed .NET code). The exposed API is pretty clean and allows you to send messages or data to the display's framebuffer or to the individual keys. It also allows you to subscribe to events from the touchpad and keys. The API exposes enough to be able to develop a wide variety of software for Switchblade UI. On the development forums I've seen someone working on a pretty extensive video-player that allows you to browse your video collection on the touchpad screen and watch videos.

Even though the SDK hasn't been around very long it's clear that Razer needs to spend time on pushing this technology a bit more. With only one keyboard and two versions of the Razer laptop sporting the technology there aren't many people in possession of it. Getting interest from developers will require a wider audience and more ways for people to get their hands on it. The keyboard isn't cheap and the laptop is definitely a luxury item for the price (but definitely worth the price-tag). Even more unfortunate is that currently the SDK doesn't work with Windows 8, so after I upgraded my Blade to Windows 8 I lost the option to explore the SDK... Here's hoping that Razer gets a bit more traction with this, because it's an interesting technology and actually works well.

P.S for Linux: The touchpad uses Synaptics technology and thus works out of the box on Linux with the Synaptics driver for Xorg. The ten LCD keys behave as configurable keys. Unfortunately, the display shows whatever was on it when you left Windows. I believe it's hooked up to the USB bus, so either the windows driver needs to be reverse engineered or perhaps Wine could run some of the Switchblade UI software components.

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By Tweakers user Gropah, Sunday 06 January 2013 22:47

I think your a bit overreacting with
the regular touchpad found on most laptops but takes it to the next level. It basically adds an LCD screen underneath the touchpad
just sounds like a touchscreen. Yeah, you can program a lot for it, but developer-wise, much more was achievable when it was indeed configured as a touchscreen and the buttons as configurable buttons. yeah, it will be a bit harder to program, but no restrictions > some (although loose) restrictions.

By Tweakers user Blue2k, Sunday 06 January 2013 23:47

I think Razer is seeing it the other way around, and it makes more sense that way in my mind: It's a touchpad first (mouse control) and a screen second. Sure, you can make it behave like a touchscreen, but it's primary use (and it's roots) is a touchpad. My experience with Window's multi-screen handling isn't very good. I think windows would be thoroughly confused if this were a second monitor, acting like a mousepad in certain cases.

Additionally, the GPU would have to worry about rendering to it too then, in this case all the performance can go to the main screen. As far as I'm aware, the Switchblade UI does not take any resources from the GPU this way.

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