Ask Hackaday: Are we close to reinventing the keyboard for touchscreens?

minuum-keyboard

We mourn the loss of the physical keyboard with the advent of tablets. After all, we do a bit of typing getting all of these features posted throughout the week. And we kind of blame tablets for the decline of the netbook industry (we still use a Dell Vostro A90 when not at home). But we’re trying to keep an open mind that we may not need a physical keyboard anymore. If someone can come up with an innovative alternative to the Qwerty layout that we are able to learn and can use with speed and without physical strain we’ll be on board. Our question is,  do you think we are close to a screen typing breakthrough?

This question came to mind after seeing the Minuum keyboard shown above. It compresses all of the rows of a Qwerty into a single row, monopolizing less screen space than conventional smartphone input methods. The demo video (embedded after the break) even shows them hacking the concept into a distance sensor and using a graphite-on-paper resistor. Pretty cool. But what happens when you type a word not in the dictionary, like this author’s last name?

You can actually try out the Minuum style thanks to [Zack's] in-browser demo hack. He’s not affiliated with Minuum, but has done quite a bit of alternative keyboard input work already with his ASETNIOP chorded typing project. It’s another contender for changing how we do things.

Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    Oh, crap. again. I’m already tired of all those ‘innovative’ input methods for mobile devices. Why they just don’t make a few decent mobile devices with _physical_ keyboards the way motorola milestone was.

    • Necromant says:

      And yes, NO touchscreen keyboard is the same way as comfortable as a plain physical one.

    • Skitchin says:

      x2 – can’t stand typing on my touchscreen. I’d say roughly 40% of what I type is right the first time. Remember that scene in The Departed where he types in his pocket? Touch screens fucked that one up for us.

      • Justin says:

        “..roughly 40% of what I type is right the first time”

        …and then you miss and waste time trying to place the cursor at the correct spot to delete. Always takes me at least 3 tries.

        • gabriel says:

          use “hacker keyboard” for android.

          it’s as shitty as any other keyboard, but has keys for cursor navigation, which makes it 10x faster.

          and yes, sadly, every single phone with a keyboard is a joke in every other aspect

          “let’s make a phone with a keyboard”
          “but our last one didn’t sell”
          “well, let’s use even less CPU and less battery with a shittier screen this time!”

          • Blue Footed Booby says:

            In case you weren’t joking, most companies have gone to touch-only to give themselves more room to improve aspects that actually sell phones. You spend X dollars on the additional parts, manufacturing steps, and materials and that’s X dollars you can’t spend on better screens and a CPU (unless you raise the price). This is in addition to having less physical space in the phone’s body (the push for thinner and lighter phones contributed to the death of physical phone keyboards as much as anything else).

          • Whatnot says:

            ‘hacker keyboard’ permissions:

            read your contacts
            Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your tablet, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals. This permission allows apps to save your contact data, and malicious apps may share contact data without your knowledge. Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals. This permission allows apps to save your contact data, and malicious apps may share contact data without your knowledge.

            ————–

            Hacker indeed, why do people all don’t give a damn about what the stuff they install does on android? What the hell is that all about?

          • Whatnot says:

            Some less intrusive free alternatives for hacker’s keyboard:

            Programmers Keyboard – Charles Volonte
            Keyboard with Ctrl key – pline.co.jp
            Programmer Keyboard – SkySoftware
            My Tablet Keyboard – Jeff Sweeting

          • M4CGYV3R says:

            As far as I can tell, Hacker’s Keyboard isn’t doing anything untoward with my contacts. It does have the ability to predict my contact names, which is what I think it uses that permission for. On my Kindle Fire I had to get that one because the Amazon one was garbage, and the other ones I tried crashed ICS.

          • doragasu says:

            IIRC, Hacker’s keyboard doesn’t require Internet access. I have no problem with it reading my contacts as long as it will not send them over the Internet. I would never install an input method requiring Internet access. It could send not only your contacts, but your keystrokes including login and password information…

      • Blue Footed Booby says:

        After autocorrect, roughly 100% of what I type is right the first time. You need either a bigger phone or thinner thumbs. :V

        • gabriel says:

          the problem is that you only type words your autocorrector knows.

          open up a shell, or write a message in another language full of english terms. or vice-versa.

          you are the 95%, which capitalism love, and minimaly-decent product designers shouldn’t care much.

          • Blue Footed Booby says:

            Uh, no, I don’t just type words it knows, I tell it to save the words I use frequently, including some in other languages, whacky jargon, and weird proper nouns. It’s one of the core features of the software–the word as typed appears next to the suggestions, so you can tap it to add it to the dictionary.

            And I’m sorry, what does opening a shell have to do with keyboards on *mobile* devices? Literally no one is suggesting this as a replacement for keyboards on regular PCs.

          • Miff says:

            Or you could just swear a lot to make the autocorrect throw up it’s hands. Android’s autocorrect has a magical “anti-dictionary” of words it’ll never autocorrect to, even if you add them in the custom one. And there’s no way to change it without recompiling the /entire operating system/. >_<

          • M4CGYV3R says:

            I don’t know what you use your tablet for, but shell is about 50% of what I use mine for. The ‘prediction’ is trash for CLI work. Even words I save don’t seem to be called up properly sometimes. I am sticking with a QWERTY keyboard for simplicity and because I (and a large portion of worldwide computer/typewriter users) have been using it for decades. My next tablet will have USB and Bluetooth so I can use proper keyboards of my choosing with it. Getting a tablet with no USB was a big mistake.

    • My thoughts exactly. Guess why I’m still using my N900 and Droid 2 Global?

      If you absolutely MUST use a touch keyboard on your phone, I find that the best one is Messagease. It has a certain learning curve, but once you master it it’s actually decent. Still can’t touch a physical keyboard, though.

      • Mathias says:

        +1 from me to MessageEase. its weired to learn but I very much pefere it to anything autocorrecting. Also it comes with a quick number pad and swiping the spacebar moves the cursor left/right so correcting errors is a breeze.

    • M4CGYV3R says:

      That Swype program is awesome when it doesn’t crash. The rest have been abject failure for me. I have to get phones with slider keyboards or I can’t text for crap.

      Unfortunately it’s a simple fact of human physiology that you can’t develop muscle memory for typing on a flat, smooth surface without solid tactile landmarks and proper key press feedback. Reading some of the HCI papers on that ‘Laser Projection Keyboard’ is an interesting take on touch-based keyboarding. The best I have seen is a screen with a little stick-on overlay that put raised ridges between ‘keys’. At least I could tell what keys I was hitting without looking at them…sometimes.

      • Sam says:

        Yup, I love Swype. It came included with my Samsung, as well as Samsung’s own effort. I suppose they liked it that much that they licensed it for the phone. You don’t take your finger off the screen, you slide from one letter to the other for your word. You only take your finger off between words, which is when it uses it’s dictionary to work out what you probably typed. It’s very fast and not bad for accuracy.

        The cursor does suck though, the display is too small to accurately position it on individual letters. Cursor keys are something that’s needed.

        A truly teeny Bluetooth keyboard might be nice. But there aren’t any that aren’t bigger than the phone itself, necessarily for the key size. One option is to make the keys into tiny 2mm round buttons, with empty space between them. That way the space essentially serves both keys. Some phones have that.

        The thing I tend to use a lot for messages tho is the voice-rec. If that was integrated better with the system, and with Swype, you’d have a combo that was just about as good as a proper keyboard in most circumstances.

  2. Sheff says:

    Where is my typewriter ??
    Now get off my lawn you damn kids.

  3. arfink says:

    I tried that in-browser demo, and I gotta say, if that’s the future of keyboards I’m sick of it already. I tried to type the word “moo” and it type the word “kill” instead. I tried to type a single letter M, and it typed the letter I instead. I tried to type three Ms in a row, and it typed “kill” for me. I tried to backspace… not an option apparently. It must just be incredibly unintuitive.

    • Blue Footed Booby says:

      Did you try typing actual words? It worked perfectly for me for everything that isn’t slang, onomatopoeia, or regional, which makes it seem like “moo” just isn’t in the dictionary. I’m not sure whether the complete lack of a way to say “no, really, I meant what I typed” is a shortcoming of the concept or this demo implementation. Assuming it’s the latter, this isn’t any worse than what phones already do. Problem is that it’s also not any better,

      • arfink says:

        Well I actually _want_ to type arbitary crap on my phone, dammit!

      • RobS says:

        I’d rank the demo as being very much worse than current autocorrect. I tried a very simple sentence: “This is a test”. The third time was the most accurate at “times owe a tveestt”. At one point it had turned “this” into “thviiss”.
        Trying several times to type “run” I get: drunk funny trunnn drumnn
        “hello” turned into: undelllloo

        And, no, at no time was the word I wanted to type among the suggestions.

        I don’t know what kind of algorithms are used in these things, but based on what I have seen so far, this thing needs to die very quickly.

        • Zack Dennis says:

          With a disambiguation system, you *have* to have the right number of letters – and there’s a ton of possibilities even starting there (for example, with the Minuum scheme if you try to type “tag” you’re going to find at least six possible full words, and more than 20 other possibilities for words you might be halfway into – and that’s only using a 5k dictionary!). That’s the reason why I nixed disambiguation as a component of ASETNIOP, the combinations explode out of control too quickly, and if you try inserting or removing letters…there’s just no way.

          We’ll see what the Minuum folks put together, because they’ll undoubtedly be using more complex algorithm for prioritizing suggestions. But I expect it will only be marginally better than my demo. Even including context (which won’t help when dealing with the first word in a sentence) there are simply too many formulations with overlapping usage (good/gold, cat/rat, of/or, etc.).

    • John Jackson says:

      For non dictionary words click and hold on the letter for a magnified view, slide to the letter you want and release.

  4. rob says:

    There’s a similar keyboard you download called Tio Keyboard. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s the same idea.

    It’s kind of shitty.

  5. AS says:

    The biggest problem with touchscreen keyboards isn’t their screen usage, but rather that you can’t feel where the keys are without typing so you need to have bigger keys and type slowly, watching your fingers, in order to type accurately.

  6. Pun says:

    I use a full size (5 row) on-screen QWERTY keyboard with post-entry spell checking but no auto-complete or predictive entry. It eats up a fair amount of screen space, but it is as close to a real keyboard as I’m ever going to get without a real keyboard.

  7. Bogdan says:

    I have to say that the fastest and most correct i ever typed was on a nokia e72: querty physical keyboard. On that i quickly learnt how to type without looking at the keyboard(or screen) just like i do on a computer. No other touch screen device was able to work like that in spite of all the efforts i made.

    On my phone i use swiftkey which now also has swipe.
    But i feel the same thing about it as i do with this keyboard: it’s only good if you type dictionary words.

    When ambiguity arises, your’re doomed.
    want to type something with numbers and symbols and unusual words: you’re doomed.
    In fact, use the keyboard with many other languages besides English who have a grammar with declination and complex conjugations and word prediction becomes almost useless.
    It’s simply much faster to type what you want letter by letter than to type a letter then check for prediction, then type some more etc.

  8. static says:

    I tried typing in my name Although it first suggested Don, it went ahead and accepted Doug, when I continued to enter it. my last name is not as complicated as Szczys, but suggested more common name that is confused with it, but didn’t correct as I continued to enter it. I didn’t see a way to correct the suggestion, unless there was a backspace button to the left that wasn’t showing up here. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking as to how correct, but if that isn’t clearly evident it’s a fail. I assume this uses a library, if so one would have to teach it on every mobile device, another fail. Any requirement that requires a connection to th web to create a master library would be another fail for those who can’t afford unlimited data plans. I always keep think Morse to data, although it would require me to my Morse code knowledge. There where some old farts texting while driving a long time ago, but because their where fewer of them, and they could text while keeping their eyes on the road they a contributor to the accident rate.

  9. borgar says:

    the whole idea of something “helping” you do anything assumes a program can anticipate what you want to type. we’ve had word libraries for over a decade and its still no where near good as words are missing or the wrong word popsup as many words will share the same word config. not to mention technical words no mortal would use.

    i hate touchscreens and i hate “helpful”solutions to reduce the number of buttons necessary. my job bought me an S2.. i hardly ever use it for anything other than calling, sms or email.

  10. TehMeh says:

    Why would anyone give money to a kickstarter so that someone can develop closed source patented technology? What’s in that for me????? It’s not like you’re going to opensource this so it could be ported to the AVR. Go get the capital and spend your own money.

    • Johan G says:

      To be the first one to have it I would guess. Why is it here though, we probably wont see it in a home brewed device till the patents have expired…

    • RobS says:

      This is actually a very good point. Assuming the video shows somebody actually using it, and not just some sneaky background scripts and/or CGI, it appears they already have a product. All they have to do is put a ribbon on it and submit it to the Google Store & iTunes. [Pause to check... not in Google (yet)]

      I’m not very curious as to what the whole fundraising bit is for.

    • Sam says:

      So it will exist and then you’ll be able to buy it. That’s the point of Kickstarter. A democratic micro-venture-capitalist. Instead of the whims of millionaires, you get a few dollars each from the masses, which they can afford to lose. If everyone’s lucky, those lucky masses get to buy the new nose-light they’ve been wanting for decades but nobody has had the nuts to manufacture.

      You generally get your nose-light for the price of your investment, plus possible nose-light T-shirts, or maybe T-shirt lights, or nose-shirts. So it’s sort-of like purchasing out of a catalogue, sort-of like investing. Instead of a return on your money, you get the lovely merchandise you wanted!

      It’s nothing to do with Copyleft, and was never intended to be. Most things in the world aren’t. You still buy cornflakes, right, even without Kelloggs printing the recipe on the box?

  11. hospadar says:

    I think swype and swiftkey are pretty decent, but I do always appreciate the attempts to innovate. If you consider how many key entry systems have miserably failed to unseat the qwerty keyboard, I think we might be waiting a while before we see anything radically different. Maybe we’ll have to wait until physical keyboards are less prevalent so people are more comfortable trying something new. I would imagine someone who didn’t grow up on physical qwerty keyboards would be a lot more comfortable with something completely different.

    On a side note – I also think it’s important that any keyboard preserve my ability to (easily, quickly) enter arbitrary not-in-the dictionary text. Passwords, slang, portmanteau are obnoxiously difficult with some of the more forcefully predictive keyboards I’ve used.

    • dex drako says:

      the flaw with this line of thought is it’s like saying if everyone was just born with one leg they learn to run faster on it. meaning people don’t have a hard time using touch keyborads because they have to learn something new, it’s a physical limitation of the tech.

  12. Richard - AG6QR says:

    I recently became a ham radio operator, and have been learning morse code. It’s a significant effort to learn, and I don’t seriously expect it to catch on widely for this reason. But once learned, it’s fast, and requires very little hardware for input. One button is all that’s absolutely required, but it’s easier, faster, and less of a strain to send with “paddles”. Paddles are essentially two buttons; one that automatically sends a string of dots while pressed, and the other that sends dashes. If you search on the terms “iambic”, “morse” and “paddle”, you’ll see a whole bunch of hits.

    Because it requires so little hardware (an existing touch screen could even be used), and can mostly be implemented in software, morse paddle input could be very cheaply added to many devices.

    There have been several public demos of how much faster Morse code is than phone text messaging, including one on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. http://c2.com/morse/wiki.cgi?MorseFasterThanTextMessaging

    But it’ll never be a solution for the masses. As for me, I strongly prefer my IBM Model M keyboard that I’m using right now, but if that’s not an option, Morse paddles are faster and easier (for me) to use than any option I’ve seen on a tablet or smartphone.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Even better for screen use is speech wreck ignition. When your phone can wreck a nice beach, you don’t even half to look at it while it rights what you’re slaying.

    Joking aside, the best (or least-horrible) on-screen keyboards I’ve used are Swype and Swiftkey. Personally I can’t stand doing hunt-and-peck on a vertical smartphone keyboard, but swiping and gestures work well there. (Typing on a vertical screen just reminds me of the Treo 650 and ‘traditional’ Blackberries.) I do most of my typing with both thumbs and the phone horizontal. It’s not as good as a physical keyboard, but it’s not the worst arrangement. If I have to type more than a couple paragraphs, I wait until I’m back at my desk with a real keyboard connected to a real computer.

  14. Dax says:

    If it needs a dictionary to work, it won’t work. I tried to type in a different language and it failed horribly. Predictive text input is a hack.

    If you want to explore this concept, leave the layout of the buttons but use up and down gestures to type the second and third alternative letter.

    • Dax says:

      Also, what about languages with more than 24 letters?

      • Richard - AG6QR says:

        I assume you mean more than 26 letters, but yeah, both points are good. Most of my texts go to people who are bilingual in English/Spanish, and I frequently text in “Spanglish”, changing languages in mid-sentence. I use plenty of non-dictionary abbreviations in each language to confuse things even further.

        At least most phones have both Spanish and English dictionaries, but it’s not worth switching dictionaries back and forth every few words.

        Spanish has 26 letters, sort of, but if you consider the diacritical marks, that adds several extra characters. Fortunately, in informal texts, those marks can ususally be omitted (except when wishing someone happy birthday: “años” needs that tilde to avoid an unintended anatomical meaning).

    • soopergooman says:

      Z10 does all languages smoothly.

    • Sam says:

      You generally have to tell it to use a different language dictionary before you start using it. Zen Poetry is another man’s typo.

  15. Sven says:

    Why are these things always called new and innovative? How is this a new invention compared to T9? It’s just T9 with a touchscreen 2D instead of key controlled 1D individual letter mode, and with a modified QWERTY instead of ABC ordering.

    Maybe it’s enormously better, but it’s not a new idea, it’s an improvement of an old idea.

    • dhon_ says:

      I’ve heard a lot of people claim that this is just t9, but I find that a vast oversimplification. T9 was dim witted in comparison to the prediction methods we have today that take into account grammar, missed/incorrect keys and a user’s own writing style. Also this keyboard doesn’t have 9 fixed key positions – I would expect it to give slightly more preference to Q say if you’re further towards the top of the strip.

      It certainly takes inspiration from many keyboards that come before it, but that is the way innovation works.

  16. Maave says:

    I kinda like the idea, but each 3-letter group should be a little more vertical to make keyboard-minuum transition easier. It could be nice for typing with controllers on console. On the controller-typing idea, has an on-screen keyboard with a springback cursor been done? Instead of the typical “jump around the keyboard from one letter to another”, the joystick pushes the cursor away from the center so that hitting keys is always consistent.

    Of course you could use the best option: physical keyboards. I have never touched a phone keyboard better than the old G1. The keys are slightly, not flat, round so they’re easy to feel. There’s a small gap between each key so you never press two keys at once. The numbers are above the letters, they’re not function keys. The position of the keys is very close to a regular keyboard, no grids. I could touch-type on the G1 almost immediately.
    All the other physical buttons were nice, too, and the roller ball which could be used as a mouse wit VNC. Is it time to hack a Galaxy S III Mini into a G1 case?

  17. EKoelle says:

    I use Swype on my phone and tablet and once you get used to “typing” that way it’s much faster than any physical keyboard. At least it is for me.

  18. soopergooman says:

    Blackberry Z10 has the BEST onscreen keyboard, give it a try and you won’t be disappointed.

  19. echodelta says:

    Qwerty 1875 Remington, designed to slow down the operator so it wouldn’t jam.
    I would prefer several good designs. And configurable at that. I hate number strips that start with 1 and end with 0, as well as the Bell Handicap ten-key that we all use vs. calculator ten-key. Yes they (bell labs) did it again, to slow down the user to 50 milliseconds per digit!
    I even question ‘alphabetical order’, it’s no order at all, just archaic legacy. The order of letters in Morse or on the 1890’s Linotype is in the frequency of use.

    • Sven says:

      Myth, qwerty isn’t designed to slow down the operator, quite the opposite, it is designed so that no word in the english dictionary should have 2 letters close to each other, making it possible to type faster without the hammers hitting each other when one is on the way up and one on the way down.

  20. Joejoedancer says:

    echodelta goes into a little of a rant but he is correct about the QWERTY being designed to slow typers down. Nothing I’ve used is faster than a keyboard. 10 Fingers vs 2 is a no brainer. Another issue I have with these fly by night keyboards is each phone has a different style so you have to re-learn each time.

  21. Anthony says:

    So, all of these keyboards that work on auto determine what you are typing as you type are for people who have no problem with spelling.
    Having both dyslexia and dysplasia, I get by with tools like “Grammar and Spell Checker” by Ginger wich makes context suggestions after the words are typed.

    This works wonderfully for most cases. Because I can smash the keyboard and get my thoughts out quickly, then go back and fix the mistakes.

    Every keyboard replacement I have tried I have stoped using after about a day as they all seem to need to have you enter the letter in the right order to make it work. Most of the time I don’t know or mix up the order of my letter. This just ends with words that do not make sense or I mistakenly use them as they look close enough.

    All need is access to all the letters and a way to provide a quick way to correct mistakes based on the context of the words around it.

  22. raven rage says:

    all im hearing is a bunch of people wishing they had a hardware keyboard on their phone. one of the big reasons i believe they are leaving that out is its another point of hardware failure…think about it….each button is a small switch and can/will fail

    • allan says:

      Hm. Before we had touchscreens telephones had buttons. And they failed after maybe 2 times the average life of a smartphone. And from all the people I know with smartphones with keyboards (8 or so), THAT was never a complaint, other stuff fails first.

    • Maave says:

      The main problem is the size and cost. The keyboard and sliding mechanism have to be thick enough that they won’t break. All that increases manufacturing costs when they could exclude it for software keyboards built into the OS.

  23. Eirinn says:

    Swiftkey with Flow is the best I’ve tried so far – that thing is psychic.

  24. John L says:

    I thought about keyboards a while back and thought that one that combined all the letters using a set of select keys operated by the right thumb to select the row and one or more fingers to select the column. More frequent letters would require thumb select and a single finger. Mouse movement and mouse clicks would allow the entire computer to be operated with one hand. A single hand to position on the keyboard. If you stuck your hand in a glove, then up and down movements by the fingers could select more letters. Most people are not left dexterous and left pinky ops are hard.
    Combine this with an intelligent word predictor and with training I bet you could really fly.
    There is huge room for invention here.

  25. freax says:

    simplified: a touchscreen can’t be operated blindly and therefore the input needs the users attention, making it less efficient than querty keys.
    a) (ignoring fancy designs that can create actual physical sensations. That stuff is in development, but no(?) real products with it exist yet)
    b) Some input methods can reduce this, but there is no perfect solution and they need extensive training to be used efficiently, which most users won’t accept. (querty needs training to, but as a device builder you get that for “free”)

  26. limpkin says:

    I miss my htc touch pro 2 so much…. I would still be using it if I could watch movies on it…

  27. Seuss says:

    i have thick fingers, this is discrimination! fat finger acceptance!

  28. skelt00r says:

    It needs constant input like swype. Combine auto correction with smaller keyboard layout. No more finger lifting, keyboard doesn’t take up half the screen. I miss hardware keyboards too but swype is much faster than tapping it out.

  29. Willaim says:

    how about 5 -7 physical keys and a menu that can be swiped up/down left right like a window onto a keyboard
    (up) number pad (L) ~123456 7890-=[bksp] (R)
    (up left) qwerty uiop[] (up right)
    (left) asdfgh jkl;’ [enter] (right)
    (dn left) zxcvb nm,./\ [shift] (dn right)
    (dn) symbol pad

    here is a pic i threw together in case that doesnt make sense

    [IMG]http://i.imgur.com/Uqvg5I9.jpg[/IMG]

    http://i.imgur.com/Uqvg5I9.jpg

  30. slowJim says:

    I’ve recently been using an apple bluetooth keyboard with my Galaxy S3 and Playbook. It’s not overly portable but it’s useful when I’m in bed and have to type something like out and don’t want to go downstairs to the desktop.

  31. MrTaco says:

    I am loathe to leave behind the glory of T9 on my 6100 for my 808’s touchscreen… but that said, I’m finding Symbian’s keyboards quite nice to use. And the dictionary pretty good too. I keep the portrait keyboard as the T9 layout, and it works pretty well as a simulation of what I’m used to (except I don’t have to hit asterisk a million times to try find the word I want), and can then just flip to landscape if I need to manually type out what I want. And doing two-thumb typing on the full qwerty board works really well for me too, I’m pretty sure I’m still at least as fast as I used to be on T9 with buttons.

    That said, I would absolutely love to have a phone with a full physical keyboard. Being able to punch out messages by feel alone was awesome.

  32. Lol says:

    Touch keys suck !
    Only hardware key !

    Why phones with physical keyborad suck at specs ?
    i am using HTC G2

  33. klim says:

    makes me think of dasher, that follows similar ideas. it’s a probabilistic input method where you point to the words in a single line. you can get really fast after a little practice. check it out!

    http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/dasher/

  34. signal7 says:

    I guess you have to be old enough to remember keyboarding class to realize that you can’t ever replace a physical key with a touchscreen. The problem of getting tactile feedback isn’t a simple problem to resolve and it can’t be resolved by moving the keys around into some other layout. When I’m typing, I’m not looking at my hands. Instead, I’m either reading what I’m typing on the screen or I’m looking at a hard copy that’s being re-typed. If I have to look at the screen to see that I’ve hit the right letter, my efficiency at typing drops considerably and honestly, I’m not patient enough to have writing this paragraph take an hour to accomplish.

    The same thing happens when I’m driving. I bought an ipod shuffle *because* it has physical buttons on it. I don’t have to look at it to know which button I’m pressing. That’s one thing I really dislike about my new car – the touchscreen radio – which I think has no business being in a vehicle. Its an accident waiting to happen.

    • Sam says:

      Still a little “click” noise from the speaker can be enough feedback to type on a touch-insensitive keyboard. You just need non-visual acknowledgement.

      Yup I worry about touch-screens in cars, and car computers generally. I’m not convinced keeping in mind the desktop / PC / file-system etc metaphor in mind at the same time as the pedals / steering / not-killing-people system is possible.

      There should be very little to distract the driver, and especially things like displays with multiple modes, multiple screens and panels, should never be there. A few permanent controls, tops, while driving is enough.

      When the engine’s off, let it do what you like. But a few simple controls, a few presets for the radio, player for CDs, and a volume slider will do. And deliberately don’t show things like song titles while driving. The driver shouldn’t ever be reading that thing anyway.

      I wonder how much work governments put into safety-ergonomics of things like this? I think more and more it needs attention. Especially if Microsoft get their way into cars, gods help us. It’s bad enough when my computer crashes, stalls, or mysteriously stops responding. See how they stand up in court once “Red Windscreen Of Death” starts happening.

      On an irrelevant note, Bill Gates, what a slimy little weasel. The voice of Kermit but none of his charisma.

  35. stevebb says:

    Problem with chord keyboards is difficulty is showing the mapping between key presses and resulting characters.

    How about a 2 button keyboard which has a display that shows 3 characters, and uses ideas from binary search?
    eg when character entry starts the display shows something like “a” “m” “z”
    press a button on the left and the selection range focuses down to “a to m” so the display ends up showing “a”,”g” “m” each key press cuts the possibilities down by about half. If people know the ordering of letters it really shouldn’t take too long for characters to be entered, Pasterns will be kind of like the rudiment patterns used in teaching drumming. Pretty soon people will assosiate sequences like “LLLLL” to “a”, even if they can’y quote the sequences.

    • Zack Dennis says:

      You’ve touched on one of the fundamental problems I’m having getting ASETNIOP some traction as a form of touch-typing for tablets (and eventually other devices, like the LEAP) – there’s not all that much in the way of an “intermediate” form. Once you develop muscle memory for all the chords, 60 or even 70 wpm is easy to achieve. Prior to that, though, it’s tough. With a physical keyboard an intermediate level is easy; if you don’t know the key you can just make a quick visual check. With a chorded method you’ve got press-and-hold with the helper bars, which is fine, but it’s a two-step process, and it’s tough for something like that to compete with a regular virtual keyboard (or even the more exotic varieties like Minuum or Swype). Even though you’ll NEVER be able to touch-type with those systems, folks are seduced by the painless entry rather than turned off by the low ceiling and limited usefulness (outside of text messaging). Of course, if the easiest method to learn were also the best, Eddie Van Halen would be one hell of a xylophone player, but such is life…

      • stevebb says:

        try to get a read of Donald Normans “the design of everyday things”. That’s got a fair few observations in, and recons that good design places controls in obvious places. eg to activate a turn signal on a car a stalk is moved in the direction the wheel will be turned to perform signalled manoeuvre. You definitely don’t want to have to read labels when driving so a that real simple rule saves you needing to remember for car x you have to turn the stalk a particular way..

  36. Mike Skoczen says:

    What is really needed is a touch screen that can change it’s surface texture and you have to press not just touch the screen.

    That way if you know the program you can feel the screen to find the button you want without looking.

    • Sam says:

      I believe people have worked on this using vibrations. Using the right combination, and some clever maths, you can approximate the feeling of a key quite well.

  37. chuwaba says:

    ” a touch screen that can change it’s surface texture”

    See “Senseg” for that.

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