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Summary:

A model that combines thumb movements with English-language tweets created a new keyboard layout to optimize thumb typing on tablets. Typing with KALQ was 34 percent faster than on QWERTY. A free Android app will be released in May.

Keyboard comparison

A re-imagined touchscreen keyboard layout promises to speed up typing on tablets. The split keyboard, known as KALQ, features two 4×4 grids of keys that were generated to produce optimal thumb typing, up to 34 percent faster than typing with QWERTY, according to new research. The new layout will be available as a free Android app in May.

Research into optimal keyboard layouts is as old as QWERTY itself, a legacy inherited from 19th century typewriters. Thumb typing with QWERTY is notoriously inefficient on touchscreen tablets and phones. Starting from the basics — how a touchscreen device is held in one’s hands — an international team of researchers drew on user behavioral data and computational models to develop the new layout. The lead investigator, Antti Oulasvirta of the Max Planck Institute for Informatics, will officially unveil this research at CHI2013 on May 1.

Theoretically, the model predicts that users should be able to reach 49 words per minute with KALQ, and because the study’s subjects were non-native English speakers, typing speed could conceivably be even better in natives. KALQ was designed so the most commonly used letters are clustered, which means the travel distances are short and both hands work roughly equally and alternately. Most of the vowels are positioned near the space bar and are handled by the right thumb, while the left thumb takes care of most of the consonants and most of the first letters of words. For lefties, the orientation can be reversed, and the key size can even be scaled for different hand sizes.

KALQ keyboard layout

For KALQ to work, tablets should ideally be gripped horizontally, with the corners cradled in the valley at the base of the thumbs. On a 7-inch tablet (the researchers used the Samsung Galaxy Tab), test subjects had the fastest movements times and best thumb mobility with this configuration, though the grip gave them access to less tablet surface area overall.

Based on this tablet gripping strategy, the researchers used computational techniques to determine the optimal key assignments. Their model of thumb movements was trained on millions of English-language tweets that originated from mobile devices. The end result, KALQ, minimizes movement times, and worked even better when users were trained to move their thumbs simultaneously and anticipate moves by hovering the thumb over the next letter.

Novice tablet users reached typing speeds that eclipsed those achievable with QWERTY after about 10 hours of training, and continued to improve, reaching 37 words per minute. This is the fastest thumb typing speed ever reported, according to Oulasvirta and colleagues, and is 19 percent faster than typing speeds found in previous studies. The end result represents a 34 percent improvement over baseline QWERTY performance in this study’s subjects.

  1. thasd a goo idea!@

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  2. It’s worth noting that the QWERTY keyboard was intentionally designed to be inefficient, to prevent the type bars of early typewriters from getting tangled due to a typist typing too fast. When typewriters were designed to avoid this problem other keyboard designs, such as Dvorak, were invented to make typing more efficient

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    1. Ross Felix Monday, May 6, 2013

      Actually, according to a piece in Today’s Huffington Post, “The QWERTY Keyboard’s Origin Story Was Just Totally Debunked” that’s actually not correct. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/06/qwerty-keyboard_n_3223611.html

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  3. It’s worth noting that the QWERTY keyboard was intentionally designed to be inefficient, to prevent the type bars of early typewriters from getting tangled due to a typist typing too fast. When typewriters were designed to avoid this problem other keyboard designs, such as Dvorak, were invented to make typing more efficient, but by then QWERTY was so entrenched that they didn’t make much headway, and office managers didn’t want to have different kinds of typewriters in their office. In theory the IBM Selectric could have been reconfigured by changing the type ball, but I don’t know if IBM ever manufactured a Dvorak type ball, for example. With computers you could reconfigure with software.

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  4. How does this compare to something like swype ? i dont think i could go back to thumb texting after using swype

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    1. calebvilleda Tuesday, May 7, 2013

      I agree. why use two thumbs? swype and use only one.

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  5. g2-2551367392025d285ab2f59c9e7753fd Tuesday, April 23, 2013

    Still prefer MessagEase, which only needs one finger and has a record speed of 82 WPM. Not that most people could achieve that, but still …

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  6. Why is it a square? From the grip presented a round arch, corner to corner, setup would seem to be the best design. I also like swype and believe it to be a very quick and easily adaptable way to type for many.

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  7. Now if they could just solve the fingerprint issue associated with touchscreen devices. Until then we will rely on removing fingerprints and smudges with the iSlip Lite screen cleaner from Cooper-Product.com. Visit our site and see the full selection of our innovative rugged elastic and microfiber cleaners. Use the code LATFOB2013 for a 10% Discount and FREE shipping through April 30, 2013.

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  8. Think it would cause a lot of accidents because people will have to use both hands while texting when driving. Even though their not suppose to text and drive they still do. Also why dont you just talk to it and let it dictate your message. Its much faster.

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  9. I still think a one-handed Dvorak layout (in portrait) is a better idea. Thumb-texting on a tablet at all is ridiculous.

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  10. Reblogged this on E2 Computers & Gotavirusbug Blog and commented:
    Very different idea for a keyboard layout can not wait to try it.

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