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Could texting spell the end of the QWERTY keypad?

28 May 2013

Alternative text input methods for smart phones offer substantial benefits to users and are comparable with common typing speeds found on computer keyboards.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Writing in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Design Research, Tom Page, a lecturer in electronic product design at Loughborough University’s Design School, has assessed a number of different text input technologies available to smart phone users.

Tom reports how interaction design has become central to the development of small touch screen devices, particularly since the launch of the Apple iPhone in 2007.  Moreover, many users now have a smart phone mindset and treat their device in much the same way previous users worked with a laptop but with much greater portability.

As such, rapid text input methods have become essential for making smart phone users as efficient as they once were with typing on a laptop keyboard.

“In essence, smart phone interfaces today have been designed in completely different ways as users are starting or seeking to replace laptops and computers with small screen highly portable devices,” Tom says.  “Indeed, more people are becoming more proficient at creating, engaging, communicating and interacting via the smart phone screen.”

There are various text input methods on smart phones, including adaptation of the QWERTY layout that has been familiar to typists since the 19th century.  Other more ergonomic soft keyboard layouts such as DVORAK and ABCDE apparently improve typing comfort and speed, but many users and developers believe that these ought to be consigned to history in this era of small screens and broadband communications.

Other text input methods such as: OPTI, 8pen, Swiftkey, Swype, Keypurr and thick buttons exist and are gently nudging QWERTY and its derivatives off-screen and giving users much faster and more accurate text input methods.

“Fundamentally, the success or failure of any new interactive technology or text input method such as soft keyboards is determined by its usability,” says Tom.  “The ergonomic aspects of soft keyboard typing on a smart phone differ greatly from their physical counterpart.  This is why alternatives more suited to the small screen than QWERTY or ABCDE are needed.”

Tom Page comments on the fact that smart phones have been rapidly advancing technologically over the last few years but their approach to text input has lagged behind.  Even the apps that claim to accelerate input and sidestep the traditional keyboard often rely on user familiarity with QWERTY nevertheless.

There is much research and development yet to be done with touch screens 
themselves and the text and other input technologies need to make smart phones even more ubiquitous and useful.

Antti Oulasvirta's research team at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics has created a new keyboard called KALQ that enables faster thumb-typing on touchscreen devices. See DPA online news item here.

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