Researchers have devised a new keyboard designed especially for tablet users that could spell the end for the long-established Qwerty layout.
The team, led by Antti Oulasvirta, a computer scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Saarbrücken, Germany, came up with their system having realised that the way most people hold their tablets makes typing with two thumbs the most convenient method for input.
Their so-called Kalq keyboard is split, so the two grids of keys occupy the opposite edges of a tablet's screen. To work our where individual letters should be placed, the team evaluated more than 5.6 million different possibilities, looking for the ones that would minimise the distance a user's thumbs would have to travel when typing English sentences.
To work out the type of sentences users were likely to type, the team examined a sample of 778 million tweets, working on the basis that users would need to type letters A to Z, along with spaces, apostrophes, commas, full stops, exclamation marks and question marks.
Having devised a thumb optimised layout (pictured above), the team set about establishing whether users would see any benefit.
They got a group of student volunteers to carry out typing tests using a traditional Qwerty keyboard on a tablet. The test subjects were then given training sessions – between 13 and 19 hours in total – using Kalq, and asked to repeat the test.
Using a Qwerty keyboard, users had an average typing speed of 27.7 words per minute (WPM) but when using Kalq that rocketed to 37.1 WPM.
The team hope to have a downloadable version of the soft keyboard ready for release in May, with other language versions available later in the year. The work is being shown off that the Computer-Human Interaction conference.
Last year, Microsoft published its own thoughts about the best keyboards for touchscreens. It evaluated numerous designs, but ultimately established that the traditional Qwerty keyboard was best – although its guiding principle was that users would use their fingers, not thumbs, to type.
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