Scotland

KALQ thumb-type keyboard takes on Qwerty

  • 25 April 2013
  • From the section Scotland
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The new keyboard layout is designed to aid type with two thumbs
The new keyboard layout is designed to aid typing with two thumbs

Researchers have created a new keyboard layout which they claim makes "thumb-typing" faster on touchscreen devices such as tablets and large smartphones.

Dr Per Ola Kristensson, from St Andrews University, said traditional Qwerty keyboards had trapped users in "suboptimal text entry interfaces".

The new design has been dubbed KALQ, after the order of keys on one line.

Its creators used "computational optimisation techniques" to identify which gave the best performance.

Researchers at St Andrews, the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany and Montana Tech in the US joined together to create the virtual keyboard, which will be available as a free app for Android-based devices.

According to the research team "two-thumb typing is ergonomically very different" from typing on physical Qwerty keyboards, which were developed for typewriters in the late 19th Century.

They claim normal users using a Qwerty keyboard on a touchscreen device were limited to typing at a rate of about 20 words per minute.

This is much slower than the rate for normal physical keyboards on computers.

Researchers said the key to optimising a keyboard for two thumbs was to minimise long typing sequences that only involved a single thumb.

It was also important to place frequently used letter keys centrally close to each other.

Finding the optimal layout involved minimising the moving time of the thumbs and enabling typing on alternating sides of the tablet.

The results were said to be surprising with all the vowels placed in the area assigned to the right thumb, whereas the left thumb is given more keys.

With the help of an error correction algorithm trained users were able to reach 37 words per minute, researchers said.

Dr Kristensson, lecturer in human computer interaction in the School of Computer Science at the University of St Andrews, said: "We believe KALQ provides a large enough performance improvement to incentivise users to switch and benefit from faster and more comfortable typing."

The developers will present their work at the CHI 2013 conference (the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems) in Paris on 1 May.

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