Smartphone and tablet typists are being urged to abandon the qwerty keyboard layout for a new design it’s claimed will make them more than a third faster.
Researchers at the University of St Andrews have developed a keyboard for handheld touchscreens called KALQ that allows typing 34 per cent faster. It will be released as a free Android app.
The team studied thumb movements and developed “computational optimisation techniques” to determine where letters should appear on the keyboard.
“The legacy of qwerty has trapped users with suboptimal text entry interfaces on mobile devices,” said Dr Per Ola Kristensson of the University of St Andrews’ School of Computer Science.
The qwerty layout was developed in the 1870s and was popularised on Remington typewriters. Many alternatives have been developed since, such as the Dvorak SImplified Keyborad, which proponents claim reduces errors, is faster and reduces the chance of repetitive strain injury. All challengers have failed to usurp the qwerty layout, however, despite their advantages.
“Before abandoning qwerty, users rightfully demand a compelling alternative. We believe KALQ provides a large enough performance improvement to incentivise users to switch and benefit from faster and more comfortable typing,” said Kristensson.
KALQ is designed for two-thumb typing with fewer sequences of single-thumb tapping, and so the movement required of each thumb is reduced.
“The key to optimising a keyboard for two thumbs is to minimise long typing sequences that only involve a single thumb. It is also important to place frequently used letter keys centrally close to each other,” said Dr Antti Oulasvirta of the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany, who collaborated on the research.
The computational optimisation techniques used by the researchers assigned every vowel to the right thumb. The letter Y, which can be used as a vowel or a consonant, was assigned to the left thumb.
Combined with an error correction algorithm, trained KALQ users were able to reach 37 words per minute, the fastest typing rate ever reported for thumb typing on touchscreen devices.
Android smartphone and tablet owners will be able to download an app from the Google Play store to adopt the KALQ keyboard. It will not be available for iPhone or iPad, however, because Apple does not allow third parties to alter the iOS keyboard.