Rule of Thumb Could Revolutionise Texting

Many phone and tablet users spend hours each day writing text messages, tweeting and sharing facebook posts on their touchscreen device, with most of the typing (at least on smartphones) inputted by thumb. Researchers say the new ‘Kalq’ touchscreen keyboard format will soon enable users to type much faster.

The KALQ keyboard

The KALQ keyboard

Thumb-typing on a QWERTY keyboard is quite inefficient, with fast thumb typists only achieving word-counts of about 20 words per minute, substantially less than the speeds achieved by ten-finger typists on regular keyboards. And while the human thumb is extraordinarily dexterous and has excellent gripping and working characteristics, it was not designed for the repetitive tapping of text messages. Forms of repetitive strain injury, including ‘BlackBerry thumb’, ‘Nintendo thumb’ and even ‘wiiitis’, have plagued video gamers and text message typists alike in recent years.

Enter a new keyboard called ‘Kalq’, which researchers claim can produce up to 37 words per minute with practice, almost doubling typing efficiency. Scientists at Germany’s Max Planck Institute teamed up with researchers at the University of Montana and the University of St. Andrews to come up with a more efficient—and potentially less painful—method of writing on smartphones and tablet computers.

They say that while the QWERTY keyboard was developed to reduce jamming of the manual keys in early typewriters, it didn’t pay much attention to the ergonomics of typing—reducing digit travel between letters. “QWERTY has trapped users with suboptimal text entry interfaces on mobile devices,” said Per Ola Kristensson, who lectures in human/computer interaction at the University of St. Andrews.

“However, 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,” says Kristensson.

The researchers found that thumb-typing is ergonomically very different to conventional typing, so they developed a computer program to optimise thumb movement, grouping frequently-used letters and vowels together under the right thumb, and other, less commonly-used letters under the left thumb in two distinct fields, enabling tablet users to hold their tablet with both hands like a book, and type away. The research team said that the key to improving productivity was reducing long sequences of typing involving only one thumb, and eliminating crossing thumbs.

The letters K-A-L-Q spell one of the lines on the new virtual keyboard, which will be available as a free app for Android devices.

So will the two-thumb method catch on? While any prolific thumb-typist would be delighted to increase the amount they can type, we may not have seen the end of QWERTY just yet…

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