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KALQ keyboard aims to speed up touchscreen thumb-typing

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April 18, 2013

The KALQ keyboard adopts a split design and positions the letters specifically for thumb t...

The KALQ keyboard adopts a split design and positions the letters specifically for thumb typing

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It there’s one thing that has stood the test of time while being continually confronted by challenger after challenger, it’s the QWERTY keyboard. A quick look at some of the many keyboards we've covered in the past reveals just how competitive this area is, and the number of options has exploded with the advent of the onscreen virtual keyboard. The latest challenger comes from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Informatics and is aimed at speeding up thumb-centric typing on mobile touchscreen devices.

Called KALQ, the layout was devised by a research team led by Antto Oulasvirta using computational optimization techniques along with a model of thumb movement to search through millions of potential layouts. The team ultimately hit upon a split layout with 16 keys on the left and 12 keys on the right. All vowels, with the exception of the Y, which can sometimes be considered a vowel, are located on the right along with G, K, L, Q and J.

The KALQ keyboard layout

The KALQ design relies on users moving both thumbs simultaneously, with one thumb moving towards its next target as the other is typing. Oulasvirta says this is something experienced typists do on physical keyboards so the team derived a predictive model of this behavior and ran it through the computational optimization algorithm so as to minimize the moving of the thumbs and to favor the alternating of sides as much as possible.

The team conducted a user study that confirmed users could type 34 percent faster after a short amount of practice with the KALQ layout than they could with a traditional QWERTY layout. They also developed error correction methods that took into account how thumbs move as well as statistical knowledge about the texts users type.

These improvements allowed users to reach 37 words per minute, which they claim is the best ever reported for two-thumb typing on touchscreen devices and significantly better than the roughly 20 words per minute regular users achieve on a split QWERTY layout.

"The legacy of QWERTY has trapped users with suboptimal text entry interfaces on mobile devices," says research team member Per Ola Kristensson. "However, before abandoning QWERTY, users rightfully demand a compelling alternative. We believe KALQ provides a large enough performance improvement to give users the incentive to switch and benefit from faster and more comfortable typing."

The team will present their findings at the CHI (Human Factors in Computing Systems) 2013 conference to be held in Paris on May 1 and plans to release KALQ as a free download for Android smartphones at the start of May.

Source: Max Planck Institute

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
3 Comments

I'm hopeful that voice recognition will make converting to this un-necessay, especially for all the people that are "all thumbs" ;^)

CaptD
18th April, 2013 @ 12:26 pm PDT

My phone has voice recognition, I need libary level of quiet for it to work at all, it sometimes surprises me how dead on and fast it can be, it also surprises me with how crazy it can be, and it's usualy slow, and sometimes it comes up with nothing.

QWERTY formerly better known as the Sholes keyboard was designed to slow people down, to keep fast typists from jamming the keys of their mechanical typewriters. The leter e is the most frequently used letter, on qwerty it's the middle finger of the left hand and 1 row up from home row position.

http://inventors.about.com/od/tstartinventions/a/Typewriters.htm

... QWERTY

The Sholes typewriter had a type-bar system and the universal keyboard was the machine's novelty, however, the keys jammed easily. To solve the jamming problem, another business associate, James Densmore, suggested splitting up keys for letters commonly used together to slow down typing. This became today's standard "QWERTY" keyboard. ...

Dvorkak is a keyboard layout optimized for speed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dvorak_Simplified_Keyboard

I touch type QWERTY, IMO their is no benifit to retaining QWERTY layout for a tiny flatscreen key layout I have to look at to use. I would love it if my Samsung Note II could have a program displaying KALQ for typing, for the reasons stated in the article. And a nice tutorial / practice program for gaining proficiency with KALQ on a phone would be great. I absolutely could not learn to type in the late 1960's in a high school class of the time using electric typewriters. Many years later running Mavis Beacon on a Commodore 64 it took about 2 weeks and it was fun.

Dave B13
19th April, 2013 @ 08:22 am PDT

Went a googling for information on a

one handed keyboard a movie director came

up with for his own use long ago, can't

recall the man's name.

Below is more like what I had in mind, and he tells you

how to make your own, and:

"Note that US patent 6429854 is NOT being released to public domain"

http://chordite.com/

http://chordite.com/protophotos.htm

WHOOPS THERE IT IS!

http://www.handykey.com/

twiddler2

Keyboard for touch typing using only one hand

http://www.google.com/patents/US6102594

click on view or download pdf for patent images

Google images search - one handed keyboard

seems to be a one way to go.

Did'nt look very long at this, you may want to:

http://www.google.com/search?tbm=pts&hl=en&q=one+handed+touch+typing

Above URL is Google's Patent search for - one handed touch typing

Incidental but interesting hits

http://www.onehandedkeyboard.com

The History of the Keyboard as a User Interface

http://w.tf/~fool/cs/sts331/keyboard.html

Has these near end of article

"... What makes these "keyboards of the future" instead of Keyboards of the Future! is that they have been available for years and adoption is slow and mostly technophiles--very little consumption or even awareness by the general public (pyramid and twiddler2 pictured above). "

I could not quickly find info on pyramid, twiddler sold at handykey above.

Not what I had in mind, why not just rubber band a keyboard to your forearm , be just as usefull, maybe better.

http://sciencegrowsjobs.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/glove-keyboard-enables-use-of-devices-with-one-hand/

Oops, wrist mount already been well done.

http://thednetworks.com/2011/01/22/20-epic-win-keyboards/

http://www.l3sys.com/wristpc/wristpc.html

Doh!

http://www.gizmag.com/kee4-keyboard/17068/

A one handed, one hand keyboard, maybe not so dumb as it looks, ok maybe it is!

http://affordablepatentservice.blogspot.com/2007/10/do-i-need-to-pursue-overseas-patent.html

And two one handed key boards, invents the two-handed keyboard !

http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/bibuxton/buxtoncollection/detail.aspx?id=3

http://www.freepatentsonline.com/6765502.html

and 9 others

http://www.beansoftapps.com/archives/products/thumb-keyboard

http://www.enablemart.com/computer-accessibility/keyboards/one-handed-keyboards

Gaming Keyboard - adaptable as full keyboard as it is?

Razer Orbweaver Elite Mechanical Gaming Keypad

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?O=&sku=926157&is=REG&Q=&A=details

Dave B13
19th April, 2013 @ 10:25 am PDT
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