Microsoft has lifted the hood on the soft keyboard design that will be found in its forthcoming Windows 8 platform, which is intended to make text entry on tablets as smooth as possible.
One of Microsoft's most eye-catching changes to a traditional keyboard layout is the inclusion of a so-called emoticon key, which brings up a whole smiley-based keyboard for users.
"The use of 'emoji' continues to grow worldwide, and has become a part of how people write and express themselves," said Kip Knox, one of the Windows User Experience programme management team at Microsoft.
Knox also claimed that the design team examined every usability aspect of the Windows 8 touch keyboard to ensure it provided the best possible method of text input.
“We started planning this feature area with no preconceived notion,” he wrote on a company blog. That included evaluating even whether a keyboard would be the best way for interacting with numerous devices, such as tablets, that would be running Window 8.
So despite the plethora of handwriting and speech recognition features found in Windows, “without a great touch keyboard, we were not going to be able to fulfil people’s needs and expectations for touch-screen devices running Windows,” said Knox.
Ultimately, users of a Windows 8-powered tablet will be presented with an instantaneously recognisable touch keyboard (see below). But the final design hides a number of subtle features, said Knox.
The keyboard will make allowances for the challenges of typing on glass, where the lack of travel on keys can make touch typing a hit and miss affair.
Users will be given the familiar visual key changes and sounds to provide reassurance that their touch has been registered, but the keyboard will also attempt to make typing more accurate.
“Based on the touch model, the keyboard is often able to quietly correct cases where you intended to type a 'p' for example, but inadvertently struck the 'o', on a Qwerty layout,” Knox claimed.
Despite all the work that has underpinned the touch-screen keyboard, when Microsoft unveiled its own brand of Windows tablets earlier this year, one of key selling points of its Surface range was supposed to be the keyboard built into the tablet's cover.