Rating: Thumb typing gets 34 per cent faster for tablet users
The traditional QWERTY was designed for a specific purpose – the typewriter. So researchers at three separate institutions: – the University of St Andrews; the Max Planck Institute for Informatics and Montana Tech have done what researchers do. And come up with a KALQ keyboard – created especially to make it easy for tablet users to ‘type’ on a touchscreen using their thumbs. The trio claim that using the KALQ, thumb typing can become 34 per cent faster.
The new system has been dubbed KALQ, after the order the keys appear in the keyboard.
That’s the same kind of naming convention which gave us the QWERTY keyboard.
To devise KALQ, the team used computational optimisation techniques, in conjunction with a model of thumb movement, to search among millions of potential layouts.
“The legacy of QWERTY has trapped users with suboptimal text entry interfaces on mobile devices,” explained Dr Per Ola Kristensson, a lecturer in Human Computer Interaction in the School of Computer Science at the University of St Andrews [Scotland].
Two-thumb typing is ergonomically very different from typing on a physical keyboard.
By contrast, the QWERTY layout is ill-suited for tablets and other touchscreen devices when typing with both thumbs.
The researchers established that normal users using a QWERTY on a touchscreen device (such as a tablet) are limited to typing at a rate around 20 words per minute.
This is significantly slow compared to the entry rates users can typically achieve on physical keyboards.
By rearranging the keys on the keyboard layout it is possible enable faster thumb typing.
However, the researchers quickly realised that slight changes of the layout, like exchanging a few keys, would not be sufficient for a significant improvement.
Dr Antti Oulasvirta, a senior Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany, said, “The key to optimising a keyboard for two thumbs is to minimise long typing sequences that only involve a single thumb.”
Oulasvirta added, “It is also important to place frequently used letter keys centrally close to each other.”
Experienced typists move their thumbs simultaneously – while one thumb is selecting a particular key, the other thumb is approaching its next target.
In the new keyboard KALQ, all vowels, with the exception of the letter ‘y’ (which can be regarded as both a vowel and a consonant), are placed in the area assigned to the right thumb, whereas the left thumb is assigned more keys.
Participants in the user study were trained to move their thumbs simultaneously.
With these improvements, users were able to reach 37 words per minute.
This is the highest ever reported entry rate for two-thumb typing on touchscreen devices.
The good news is that KALQ will soon be available as a free app for Android-based smartphones.