As computer screens get smaller, so do their virtual keyboards. The standard two-hand home row position that touch typists use to type quickly and accurately isn’t possible if the device you’re typing on isn’t even as big as one of your hands. People have been using their thumbs to text on these miniature keyboards, but this is a slow method of text input for most people. Even the world record holders for text-messaging don’t type much faster than 60wpm, which is nearly half of an expert touch typist’s speed. Designers and engineers are now looking for ways to make text input quicker on these smaller devices, and they’ve started looking for alternatives to the QWERTY layout.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute For Informatics in Saarbrücken, Germany have designed a new layout they call KALQ that rearranges the letters according to thumb movement distances and letter frequency. The letters are split so that 11 letters are on the right side (including all the vowels) with the rest of the letters in a block on the left side, in order to minimize the amount of double-tapping; by maximizing the alternation from left to right, it’s easier to type. The layout is designed for right-handed people, but there are plans to build a mirror-image keyboard for left-handers as well. The research team says that this new layout will let people increase the average texting speed of approximately 20-25wpm to nearly double that speed, and that the people they trained to use this keyboard averaged 37wpm in texting at 95% accuracy.
The new KALQ keyboard was demonstrated at a seminar on May 1, 2013 at the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Paris, and is now available for Android devices. You can read more about the system and the theory behind it, and get the download, at the research team’s webpage here.
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