Tag Archives: keyboard

Two thumbs down for KALQ

Our WTF??!!?? of the month surely goes to the krazy konfubulation kalled KALQ.

Recently launched by the venerable Max Planck Institute and the no-less-venerable University of St Andrews, KALQ offers to solve the pressing problem of texting on a tablet.

It’s solution: rescramble the alphabet so that your thumb travels the least distance possible between letters. I love it when engineers try to solve ergonomic problems with equations: “If we minimise ze thumb-travelling coefficient, based on ze relative frequency each letter of ze alphabet, we can increase ze speed of typing, ja?” Logic beats intuition.

Max Planck Institute for Informatics

The blank squares represent the space bar and clustered around this central locus are all the high frequency letters… sort of. They claim that with 8 hours of intensive training, you will become as fast as you were on QWERTY. And after 19 hours you could be even faster than QWERTY. With efficiency gains of up to 34%.

Forgive us if we’re underwhelmed. Here’s why:

1. This is a tablet-only solution – so all that retraining is for only one device. which means we’re still condemned to using QWERTY on the rest of our devices.

2. Learning curves – Hate them. It does not take 8 hours to master QWERTY, professors. It takes months (if you take lessons) or even years (if you try to teach yourself). And countless hours of practice. What makes you think this new letter scramble is going to be easier – especially if we’re continually reverting to QWERTY on every other device?

3. History – Do the words Dvorak or Colemak mean anything to you? They too took the logic-over-intuition path, invented their own hard-to-learn letter scramble and have been consigned to the industrial scrap heap of disuse.

4. Intuition eats logic for breakfast – the most widely used and ubiquitous keyboard ever requires no lessons, no hours of rote practice, and no special muscle-motor memory. It’s called the T9 Alphanumeric Keypad. It can be found in the hands and pockets of nearly 6 billion people in every corner of the planet.


Why is it so popular? Why is it so simple to master? It might have something to do with a letter order every toddler learns in kindergarten. Why, it’s as easy as A B C!

Time to go back to kindergarten, professors.


Filed under History, Innovation, Interfaces, Mobile, Usability

Wingz SmartKeyboard: Will It Fly?

I haven’t covered keyboards lately, so I thought it was high time I did. I discovered the Wingz SmartKeyboard while browsing Kickstarter. It’s designed to solve the usbaility issue of texting on a touchscreen.

Wingz SmartKeyboard

Wingz SmartKeyboard

Wingz can connect as a bluetooth keyboard to a tablet or smartphone. But it’s also a “mobile device” itself — since the touchscreen panel at the middle actually runs on Android. You can actually stick a sim card in there to make calls and send texts.

While this is one way to solve the keyboard problem of touchscreen devices, I still think that lugging around yet another “too big for my pocket” device is a step back from mobility. And what would be the advantage of this over a Bluetooth keyboard?

I personally own an Apple Wireless Keyboard, the slimmest such device around, and even I don’t carry it around often. I tried carrying it around to pair with my iPad for writing on the go but the two device combo just doesn’t work well in actual usage. I just conceded defeat and bring a laptop when I need some writing done.

As an accessory, I would put Wingz on the same shelf as the Bluetooth headset, the external USB numeric keypad and the touchscreen stylus. It’s possibly useful for some people but for most it’s too much of a fiddle.

As a companion to a tablet or smartphone, I don’t think yet another device is the answer and certainly not one as expensive as this ($240). Every mobile device already has the best input method available: its own screen. It’s not tactile but it is very portable. So I guess the problem really is software and not hardware. Let’s stick to making virtual keyboards better first.

So does Wingz have the wings to fly? It’s certainly crashed and burned on Kickstarter – not even raising 1% of it’s $54K target.


Filed under Hardware, Interfaces, Mobile

Snapkeys: Somewhere between “driving blind” and “using the force”

Well I never thought I would be stumped by a keyboard (or non-keyboard), but there’s a first for everything. After watching the video, I was left with phrases like “imaginary interface” and “faster than a pc keyboard” in my head — strong claims I know, but claims aside, the concept is pretty interesting.

You can’t tell from the video, but there are four keys and the whole alphabet fits into one of those four. You have one key that represents any letter that stands on “one point” (think F or V or T), one key for letters that stand on two points (W or N), letters that stand on a wide base, and letters that have a circle in them.

There are plenty of benefits to having only four keys: The target sized can be so large, that error is almost completely wiped out. In fact, the target sizes can be so big that you don’t even need to see the keys. That’s why they can tout the “invisible keyboard” monicker.

Sounds confusing right? It’s actually not. They have a demo on their website that is pretty convincing. After typing 4 words I didn’t need to look at the keys anymore, but your mileage may vary. And if you ever get confused, there’s always the visible mode.

Despite how fast I picked it up, I’ll have to hold out to see if: 1) this is vaporware, and 2) how good the prediction engine is. With only four keys, the machine needs to pick out of 6 different characters each time you type a letter, so the AI must be strong with this one.

The good news is that this company is trying to get their keyboard onto every smartphone company… The bad news is they have no expected release date.

Stay tuned for more, and if you have any other tastey details about Snapkeys, please leave a note in the comments.

via ubergizmo

Contributed by Elliott Williams


Filed under Innovation, Interfaces, Mobile

Tablet Keyboards – Why I’m Still All Thumbs

There has been a lot of hype surrounding the new ‘thumb’ keyboard (on the new iPad 2 and on SwiftKey for Android), a novel keyboard layout for tablet users aimed at facilitating typing on the go via two-thumbed text entry.


The thumb keyboard splits the traditional QWERTY keyboard into two; allowing your thumbs to reach all the keys. So you can walk, chew gum AND type at the same time: one would have thought a basic requisite for any ‘mobile’ device. But until now, tablet keyboards haven’t allowed the user to type with any confidence while on the move… or, in fact, away from any flat, stable surface.

There are a number of reasons for this, not least is the unnatural layout of the QWERTY keyboard. This system, designed for two hand/ten finger text entry, means users would require a third hand to hold and steady the device.

The other option is to hold the device with one hand and type with the other — an infuriating experience — because while one hand may be familiar with one side of the keyboard, what happens when it crosses to ‘the dark side’? Crossing this great divide can be like learning to type all over. From a usability perspective this technique is disastrous; not only is your typing hand unfamiliar with the opposite side of the keyboard, it also has to travel great distances to reach each key. These problems reduce event the most fluent touch typist to a two-finger hunt-and-pecker.

Another major design flaw of tablet keyboards is the lack of tactile feedback. The QWERTY keyboard layout only works when key positions are committed to memory and when there are tactile references:

  • the nubs on ‘F’ and ‘J’ keys
  • the reassurance of a protruding and springy button
  • each with well defined edges under each fingertip
  • and a discernable gap between each key.

These send an error report straight to your brain when you mistakenly press two buttons at once. All these cues are completely absent on the smooth, cold touchscreen.

While some tablets attempt to give haptic feedback — tiny vibrations when a key is pressed — this gives no indication whether you’ve hit the right key. So rather than attempting to give the user useful feedback, most tablet manufacturers opt for the gimmicky false reward vibration for any random stab within the perimeter of the entire keyboard.

This lack of helpful tactile feedback makes it almost impossible for anybody to type without constantly looking where their fingers need to go next. This in turn makes it impossible for users to walk and type at the same time without causing grievous bodily harm. Or worse. It’s why we have laws about texting while driving.

YouTube Preview Image

So what are the possible solutions?

Some devices give feedback in the form of sound. But can sound serve as a suitable reference? At the moment, a singular sound for all keys is barely adequate. Again, the device gives no accurate, key-specific feedback.

Hopefully I’m not the only one who thinks we deserve a better user experience.

So while the thumb keyboards attempt to facilitate typing on the go, they still succumb to the major usability pratfalls of tablet text entry. What’s worse, they reduce you from your eight most dextrous digits to your clumsiest two.

Is thumbing dumbing it down as well as slowing you down?

If so, where do we go from here?


Filed under Mobile