Alternate On-Screen Keyboard Design

    One of the most important tasks facing developers of mobile devices is to create the most convenient interface. Including the method of entering information. If we talk about text messages, then today nothing better than a mechanical or virtual keyboard has been invented. With the transition from push-button mobile phones to smartphones, entering text has become easier and faster, since the QWERTY keyboard is much more convenient for this. But still this is not an ideal tool for smartphones: the diagonals of the displays do not allow you to place a comfortable-sized keyboard. Yes, and the layout of letters on a QWERTY keyboard has long been criticized as morally obsolete. In this regard, many developers continue to experiment with keyboards for mobile devices. Moreover, their searches have become even more intense due to the rapid development of wearable gadgets.

    During the creation of YotaPhone, it turned out that the electronic ink display is less convenient for a virtual keyboard than LCD. Thanks to a thorough study of the interface, we were able to minimize this difference. But we did not stop tracking various innovations in the field of text information input. And today we want to offer for discussion one very interesting idea of ​​the on-screen keyboard. In order not to retell in our own words, we have prepared for you a translation of the original article.


    Meet 5-Tile Keyboard , another QWERTY replacement challenger. We believe that his chances of success are especially great in the case of small wearable devices like smart watches. The main reason for creating the project was the too small size of the QWERTY-keyboard compared to human fingers.

    The attempts to “overthrow” QWERTY can be compared with passing the test of Yahweh in the film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. This one is littered with the skeletons of all kinds of failed alternative keyboard projects. However, this does not deter regular applicants from new hopeless attempts. Well, they are not literally hopeless , but they have a meager chance to change their rooted QWERTY habits in the short term.

    The constant failures of alternative projects are related to the fact that they are trying to change our muscle memory with an almost 150-year history. And despite the fact that QWERTY appeared as an attempt to solve the design flaw of typewriters, it is firmly rooted in the minds of countless users at the level of reflexes. However, the imperfection of QWERTY makes ever new daredevils try to replace it. It was once optimized to speed up the printing mechanism, and not for the comfort of users. And today this anachronism also takes up a lot of space on the screens of our smartphones.

    It was the development of touch displays that opened up new possibilities for abandoning QWERTY. After all, it is incomparably easier to invite users to try a new virtuala keyboard than redoing billions of metal and plastic keyboards. Well, at least on Android devices, as Apple is an ardent supporter of retaining QWERTY.

    The startup, whose project will surpass it and become the new standard, will undoubtedly gain immortality, like Indiana Jones and his father, who have drunk from the Holy Grail.

    Five buttons

    Back to the 5-Tiles . This is an alternative way of typing for touch screens, which abandoned the traditional alphabetical buttons. But this is not the main thing. The highlight of the project is the use of only five buttons, as well as the selection of characters using taps and gestures.

    Placing all buttons with letters on the screen is especially problematic in the case of smart watches and other compact wearable electronics. You can even use gesture typing in Google Glass.

    The authors of the project believe that its main advantage, in addition to saving screen area, is a large number of combinations with only five buttons.

    This is not the only alternative keyboard project for small screens. Canadian startup Minuum offers an option where the entire QWERTY keyboard is squeezed into the bottom of the screen. Gestures are used to select characters and an automatic algorithm is built in that offers different words depending on the context.

    But still, Minuum relies on the use of QWERTY, while5-Tiles does not only mean memorizing a large number of gestures, but requires a review of the entire typing process. If you do not take into account the learning curve, then 5-Tiles offers an elegant solution to the problem of small screens, even providing the ability to copy and paste using gestures. But at the same time, the main, and huge, obstacle is the need to convince users to accept a completely new way of typing.

    Field test

    Does 5-Tiles also work ? The letters of the Latin alphabet are distributed across the five buttons of the keyboard (on the last 4 letters and a space). On each button, the most frequently used letter is underlined. This means that by pressing the button once, you will type this letter. For the rest, you need to use the swipe gesture left or right, depending on the location of the desired letter relative to the underlined.

    Consider this with the example of the first button. If you just click on it, then the letter " e " will be printed . To print the letter " a " you need to press and, without releasing, swipe your finger to the right to the next button. Accordingly, if you reach the third button, the letter “ b ” is printed , and so on up to “d ".

    Most of the buttons with the help of swipe down or up perform additional functions. For example, swipe down on the first button deletes the last typed word, and swipe up - the last letter. There are gestures for the Shift, Enter, cursor keys, and so on.

    We want to emphasize once again that using this keyboard involves memorizing a large number of gestures. This task is not for five seconds, minutes or even hours. It will take much more time to break the habit of QWERTY and start typing on 5-Tiles fast enough so as not to feel discomfort. Of course, if we are talking about its use in a smartphone.

    With no habit of typing on 5-Tilesit was tiring. I had to look for each letter, and a set of additional characters, the same hyphen, required quite painstaking actions with buttons.

    However, for smart watches, the issue of dial speed is undoubtedly much less acute. There, anyway, no one will train in the epistolary genre. A very short text will be typed on a smart watch, so learning to work with 5-Tiles will require less time and effort.

    The closest equivalent to 5-Tilesis a good old dial using a 9-button numeric keypad. Remember how you had to repeatedly press buttons on mobile phones to select the desired letter? However, many users have adapted quite quickly to type texts, despite the obvious inconvenience of the method. When you really need it, you get used to it and not to that.

    Now for 5-Tiles it is important that wearable electronics (and smart watches in particular) are widely used. This will allow them to more successfully promote their alternative keyboard, which in any case will be a serious challenge for them.

    Original article .

    Our opinion

    This project seemed very interesting to us. Yes, he has a weakness - the need to remember many different gestures. But even among QWERTY users, there are not many who own a blind set. What would it be like for a person who has been using 5-Tiles all his life to suddenly sit in front of a bunch of buttons with letters located without any visible logic? See how long and painfully QWERTY searches for the right buttons for people who are not familiar with high technology and computers. So the opinion of the authors of the article about the excessive complexity of mastering 5-Tiles may be somewhat exaggerated.

    We also asked Anton Tarasenko, head of software development at Yota Devices, to comment on this project:

    Today there is no definite answer to the question of whether it is necessary to do different ways of entering text on different displays. Each solution has its pros and cons. At QWERTY - familiarity and clarity, combined with too small buttons and inefficient use of display area. The main advantages of 5-Tiles are high input speed and compactness. The disadvantages of the project are described in detail above.

    However, all alternative keyboard designs are one way or another aimed at increasing the input speed. And this means that the user needs to perform more actions per unit of time. We set ourselves the task of simplifying interaction with a smartphone.

    In any case, the last word remains with the users. What do you think about the described 5-Tiles keyboard ? Would it be convenient for you personally to use it? Would you like to be able to switch to it with QWERTY, for example?

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