KALQ thumb-type keyboard takes on Qwerty

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.

Start Quote

We believe KALQ provides a large enough performance improvement to incentivise users to switch”

End Quote Dr Per Ola Kristensson St Andrews University

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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  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    Since they are not real ‘keys’ why not just present movable icons on the screen? Then the user can organise/resize the keys any way they want.

    We can all experiment with different layouts and eventually a good one will evolve. Far more likely to be useful than any ‘revolutionary’ system decreed by experts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    We already have two keyboard layouts, QWERTY for touch typing and the alphabetical layout of most number pads, though this might help one finger typists type faster on mobile devices, for touch typists like myself who use more than just two digits it's totally useless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Tablet devices are an ideal platform to test this new keyboard style. I hope manufacturers will configure the OS to provide both and allow the users to flip between the 2 as required. Then we will see if it has a future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    After using QWERTY for many years, and converting to Mac, finding the keyboard is just different enough to really screw up productivity (plus having XL 'man thumbs' anyway), not sure I'd want to adapt again

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    I have never seen a single person typing on a smartphone's screen in that manner ever! No one I know has used their thumbs to type since old school phones with number pads!
    It's all index fingers now! :-p


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