Windows Phone 8 Keyboard Secrets

    Since the advent of Windows Phone 7, there have been many compliments to its virtual keyboard, a system of “smart” tips and corrections. Engadget called it “one of the best and most accurate virtual keyboards we have tried on any platform.” Gizmodo approved: "The keyboard is boss." Even the New York Times appreciated the "smart tips."

    In Windows Phone 8, the developers set as their goal to make the keyboard even more intuitive, accurate and individual. In this article, we would like to talk about the improvements that were in the latest release, and explain some of the mechanisms that provide predictive technology that is of great interest.

    Introducing Word Flow

    On average, users print from 20 to 30 messages per day using telephones — more than 10,000 are published per year. Of course, they make quite a few mistakes, according to research by Microsoft colleagues, in about every third word. Windows Phone 8 introduces Word Flow, an improved and renamed version of the Quick Correct feature familiar from Windows Phone 7.5. It helps to prevent typos, the correction of which takes time, and allows you to concentrate on the really important thing - communication with loved ones.

    World Flow was designed to match how ordinary people talk to each other - and she knows everything, including the latest trends in pop culture and slang. Working on Word Flow, the developers reworked an array of 2.5 billion English words from various sources - dictionaries and the Internet. Unfortunately, the space in the phone is limited, so 600,000 of the most common words and phrases that people use most often were selected for correction and Word Flow tips.

    As a result, out of the box, the Windows Phone auto-correction system is 94% accurate. But each of us has our own style of communication, so Word Flow has a learning system that explores your communication habits and what you write about.

    How it works

    Creating a good keyboard is not an easy task. We all saw smartphones making annoyingly stupid corrections. You don’t need to go for evidence - just look at the Damn You Autocorrect website or recall the numerous pictures on social networks.

    In order to avoid the fate of the star of such sites, Windows Phone must know a lot of words and understand what you type. Therefore, it has a built-in virtual dictionary similar to the volume of Ozhegov or Dahl on your shelf. However, there is one key difference between them - the Windows Phone dictionary contains not only words, but also how often they are used by people on their mobile phones.

    For example, imagine someone starts typing “happ”. What word should the phone offer? The dictionary would say “Happen”, but statistically most often it is “Happy”.

    The Office team has been researching the most frequently used words for over 20 years, providing similar functionality in Word and Outlook, and they really helped in creating the first dictionaries for Windows Phone 7. Office uses a variety of sources - from linguistic research to frequency analysis of documents, books and the web -pages. And, since “happy” is used more often than “happen”, Windows Phone offers “happy” as the first clue.

    However, even a “smart” dictionary cannot avoid inappropriate hints and unwanted auto-fixes. There are two reasons for this.

    First, it’s crucial that the dictionary is relevant to what you type. A dictionary based only on words used in scientific texts and textbooks will not be able to make hints relevant to ordinary conversation (however, scientists around the world would, of course, be glad of such a turn of events). For example, typing “in,” you would see “hydrogen” as the first clue.

    The second thing that affects the quality of corrections is the dependence on the words that appeared before him. If you type “B-d-b-z”, most likely you mean “Be healthy” and not “Be for”. Some words are easy to predict — for example, “Russian F” almost always means “Russian Federation”.

    Which word should be suggested next? To answer this question, Windows Phone 8 should not only know a lot of words, but also the frequency with which people use them.

    Designed for ordinary people.

    Windows Phone 8 is designed with both of these in mind. In ordinary life, people often use slang, non-standard spelling, and abbreviations. Therefore, to manage the dictionaries that are used in Microsoft Word, alas, will not work.

    You helped to solve this problem! Remember the little checkbox the first time you turned on the phone (and in “Settings”) asking you to help improve the tips? When someone gave their permission, the phone collected anonymous information about the typed text - of course, without passwords, number names, or any other personal information.

    In order to educate the phone on slang and pop culture, the developers included Twitter and Wikipedia in the list of sources. True, they didn’t get stuck there all day long - for this special programs were written that looked for new and frequently used words. Of course, the results had to be cleaned by hand - including from links and hashtags.

    Finding things, places, people, and topics that users discuss has helped make the hints and corrections more accurate - from Harry Potter (Ravenclaw and Slytherin as an example) to famous personalities (like Obama and Clooney). Of course, what is popular in the USA may mean nothing in Russia, therefore Word Flow has unique dictionaries for each language. Twitter and Wikipedia have been very helpful in creating dictionaries for specific countries and dialects.

    Another previously mentioned problem is understanding the context - which words are likely to appear before and after the word you typed. In particular, the developers studied three words in context (they received the name “trigrams,” from the Japanese name of the same name, which consists of three parts), in order to understand which ones are best proposed. For example, if a user types “I love” and then “t” most likely, he means “you” - because we most often use phones to communicate with loved ones (of course, there are some people who write “stool”, but they will be in a clear minority). Trigrams are great for such common phrases. But using them also means that Windows Phone understands - if you type “Harry,” you'll probably type “Potter” after that.

    Another challenge for engineers was the “fat finger” problem. If a finger hits more than one letter when pressed - what happens often enough - which user did you want to press?

    The solution used in Windows Phone is to change the invisible “touch zone” (the touch sensitive area around each letter) as you type. When your finger touches this area, a letter appears on the screen. The touch zone constantly changes its size depending on the word that, according to the keyboard, you are going to enter. The video will tell about this most clearly:

    How does the phone know which zone of the letter needs to be made more? He uses the same dictionaries to help him decide which letter you are going to enter next. In the case of the example “Happy Birthday”, after “S-d-e-m-r-“ the area around “o” will become larger, and around “p” and “l” it will be smaller, since you most likely want enter exactly “o”. Many users continue to say that typing on Windows Phone is easier than on other smartphones - the touch zone is one of the reasons. In appearance, a simple change required serious scientific research - that is why Microsoft Research specialists actively participated in creating the virtual keyboard. Read more about their research here:

    Personalized dictionaries

    Finally, the time has come to talk about the most important part of the dictionary, which is completely empty when the phone first falls into your hands - a personalized dictionary. This is the place where the phone stores all the words and phrases that you use. As you type, he learns how you use the language. Subsequently, this data is used everywhere - both in tooltips, in auto-replacements, and in the operation of touch zones.

    The result of all this work is the most intelligent keyboard among all smartphones - and the developers are not going to stop in their research. What do you think of the keyboard in Windows Phone?

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