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ZoomBoard allows for easier typing on smartwatch screens


April 30, 2013

The ZoomBoard system allows smartwatch users to type on their devices' tiny screens

The ZoomBoard system allows smartwatch users to type on their devices' tiny screens

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We keep hearing about how smartwatches may replace – or at least augment – the smartphone, but how would you type on that tiny display? In some cases, where the watch is linked to a smartphone in your bag or pocket, you could just use the phone’s screen. For stand-alone smartwatches or quick messages, however, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have created the ZoomBoard system.

Developed by PhD students Chris Harrison and Stephen Oney, ZoomBoard displays a full miniature QWERTY keyboard when in its default mode. Tapping on that display, however, causes it to zoom in on the keys in the touched area of the keyboard. This makes it relatively easy to then select the specific key that you want.

Holding your finger on a key gets you a capital version of that letter, a swipe to the right produces a space (as does tapping the space bar), and a swipe to the left deletes a typed character. In order to access the number and symbol keys, an upward swipe is required.

In a test of the system using a 16 x 6-mm keyboard display (seen above), users were able to manage a typing speed of about 10 words per minute. “You aren’t going to write a novel, but it gets the job done,” said Oney. “This opens up new possibilities for devices such as smartwatches, which generally lack any means of entering text, as many aren’t powerful enough for voice recognition.”

As the software is further developed, a language model may be added – this is the system already in use in phones, that suggests words based on the first few letters typed. Harrison and Oney believe that ZoomBoard may also be helpful in full-sized touchscreen keyboards, for disabled users.

The system can be seen in use in the video below.

Sources: Carnegie Mellon University, Chris Harrison

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

re; christopher

It's public domain if your talking about the Morse code idea.


I think it would be easier and faster to learn Morse code, you could have text messages vibrated into your wrist as well.


It's double the work, so not very intuative, there're far better 'alternative keyboards' out there which is good, since smartwatches are the next big thing.

Nick Bull

Graffiti, Jot, or even a micro version of Swype would be 10x faster and way more intuitive than this.

Gesture based input is a far better option for touch input on smaller screens.

John Lacson

Hello patent-troll lawsuit to whoever uses that idea in future...


I wish people would dump the QWERTY arrangement, even it's familiarity contributes nothing. What's the deal with fingers anyway? PUT A FREAKING CAMERA ON THE GADGETS FOR INPUT, with feedback for selection. arrange the letters in a circle & stick your tongue out and run it around for selection, blink left and right eyes for shift keys, open and close mouth, smerk left, smerk right. Would be fun to watch at least, AND LEAVE YOUR HANDS FREE.

Dave B13

This is actually really genius. I don't like morse code because of the learning curve. That is one of the reasons I didn't upgrade my amateur radio license past tech because the next license class required morse code. I'm not completely slow but of all the things it would be useful for me to invest time in and learn morse code just isn't high enough in importance. I'm using that space in my brain to remember the name of my dog and where I live.


re; Diachi

Yes there is a learning curve but once you learn to use it it will work on any enabled touch device. Imagine how much more room there would be on your desk if it was not more convenient to use the full sized keyboard.

re; Dave B13

Granted qwerty is a lousy keyboard arrangement but because of the familiarity most people find the letters faster with it than any other arrangement.

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