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Input Devices Technology

Carnegie Mellon Offers Wee QWERTY Texting Tech For Impossibly Tiny Devices 100

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the cool-solutions-to-weird-problems dept.
coondoggie writes "If smartwatches and other ultra-small devices are to become the text generators of the future, their diminutive keyboards are going to have to be way more useful for, um, big fingered typists. Carnegie Mellon researchers may have the answer to that problem. Called ZoomBoard, the text entry technique is based on the iconic QWERTY keyboard layout." The zoom board paper (PDF) has details. Entering a letter becomes a multi-step process; first you mash the general area of the keyboard containing the letter you want, and eventually it becomes large enough to hit. Test subjects managed to hit 9.3wpm after practice, versus 4.5 wpm for people trying to peck on a teeny-tiny virtual keyboard. They were inspired at least in part by the venerable Dasher input method.
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Carnegie Mellon Offers Wee QWERTY Texting Tech For Impossibly Tiny Devices

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  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @09:57AM (#43599971) Homepage

    People should just learn Morse code, only one button. It's the original text message tech.
    And good Morse code operators go vastly faster than a mere 9.3 world per minute.

    • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@NOspaM.gmail.com> on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @10:09AM (#43600093) Journal

      You joke (or half joke, can never tell on the net) but THIS, this right here, is why the PC and laptop will NEVER die, trying to input text on one of these little devices is an exercise in frustration and irritation. Hell I'm a two fingered typist (got some fingers broke in a bike wreck and while they play bass decently the curve that the joints are set in don't respond well to typing) and I can positively fly low on a regular keyboard compared to a 100 WPM touch typist on one of those little mini-key jobs, which needless to say is frustrating as hell for them. Dragging along a BT keyboard of course becomes more bulky and a bigger PITA than just carrying a little laptop so we are right back where we started.

      I've seen everything from virtual keyboards to the "spin the thing until it lands on the right letter" and frankly nothing has even come close to a full size keyboard and until they do i just don't see anybody giving up their desktops and laptops, no matter how much the OEMs (and MSFT) want to force us onto "ecosystems" where they control everything and get a cut of every sale, it might be good for them but the interface just sucks.

      • Dragging along a BT keyboard of course becomes more bulky and a bigger PITA than just carrying a little laptop so we are right back where we started.

        The problem with a notebook is that the keyboard is permanently attached, and none of them have a back facing camera.

        • by chispito (1870390)
          Why does a notebook need a back-facing camera?
          • Why does a notebook need a back-facing camera?

            So you can take pictures of the blackboard, or the presentation. It's a little hard to get zoomed in on the right spot with a front facing notebook camera.

        • by hairyfeet (841228)

          And you NEED a back facing camera...why exactly? hell if i know but it takes less than 4 seconds in Google to find a snap on cam, you can use BT or USB, your choice, that will face any way you like and have a HELL of a lot better resolution over the tablet cam as long as you don't buy the cheapo shit.

          But its NOT the users i see pushing for this shit, its the manufacturers because they see mobile as a cash cow where they control the ecosystem and even when you upgrade, simply by making the latest and greates

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          The problem with a notebook is that the keyboard is permanently attached, and none of them have a back facing camera.

          You can get a transformer, or you can get one of the many notebooks with a flip-over camera. I like the Lifebook T900, which has many other features we expect to see in modern computers, but it is a bit massive by modern standards.

      • by Hatta (162192)

        If only there were some way to connect a keyboard to a device that does not have one.

    • It's also an early example of data compression, with more common letters generally having shorter forms than uncommon ones.

      I tried posting this IN morse, but Slashdot thought it was lame. I think they're right!

    • Steep learning curve aside - not a freaking bad idea! I think the drawback is - people who do Morse fast don't actually use a "button" - they use one of those bigger clickity-clackity things that seem to allow them to go faster. A simple "button" might slow them down - at least a bit.
      • by femtobyte (710429)

        The "modern" input equivalent is chording keyboards --- instead of a "single bit per tap," you use combinations of several fingers to produce even higher data rates. Steep learning curve, indeed, but people who learn to use them can type blazingly fast on a rather small input device.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      9.3 words a minute is absolutely abysmal. Stephen Hawking does better than that. Though granted he is a genius unlike the people who would buy a keyboard smaller than a penny.

  • I've never really sat down and assessed how slowly I type on a phone, but 9.3 wpm is more than a factor of 10 from my keyboard typing speed. Why have we decided that stupid tiny keyboards are a good idea?

    • Why have we decided that stupid tiny keyboards are a good idea?

      You don't have a keyboard with you if you are on a train or bus. This is the replacement for a smart phone, not your desktop PC. Still, 4 or even 9 wpm (words per minute) seems a little slow? I've seen kids text on the old phones (before touch screens) faster than that.

      • You do if you're carrying a netbook. They have keyboards you can get a decent typing speed on.

        • by tepples (727027)

          You do if you're carrying a netbook

          Except they stopped making netbooks [slashdot.org] because tablets are better than netbooks for the majority of people.

        • by afidel (530433)

          Or carry a smartphone with a full 5 row keyboard, with swype I can probably do 10-20 wpm with corrections, with the hardware keyboard probably 30-40. I'm really quite perplexed by the fact that hardware keyboards aren't more popular considering that kids spend most of their time on the phone texting/IMing.

        • True, but the whole quest is to make a device smaller. You cannot carry a netbook in a pocket (or you actually can, but some people have really small pockets!). I also carry a backpack with a small laptop... a small laptop has many advantages over smart phones or even tinier devices (multiple usb ports, a larger screen, and I can have my favorite distro on it) but some other people think there's a market for tiny devices. Let them. It's nice to see they are finding a solution to one of the more fundamental

      • by hedwards (940851)

        It is quite slow, I remember back before I learned to touch type, that I could hunt and peck at around 35wpm, and even somebody of low skill ought to be able to do at least 15wpm with some practice. Anybody doing less than that hasn't had much practice and is having to hunt over the entire keyboard without any clue as to roughly where the keys are that they're needed.

    • by tepples (727027)

      Why have we decided that stupid tiny keyboards are a good idea?

      Because not everybody has the room to carry around a Bluetooth keyboard, nor the chance to sit down and use them. If you want to type something while standing in the checkout line, where will you put a full-size keyboard?

      • by Tarlus (1000874)

        It really begs the question of what could be so important to type that it needs to be done while standing in a checkout line.

        (On another topic: your sig is feeding the trolls.)

        • Your wife knows you're at the grocery store, sends you a text to remind you of buying milk and you need to text her back with "1 or 2%?".

          • IMO while people having long (and sometimes VERY personal) conversations in the grocery line is annoying, a call that's basically (from the shopper's side) "Hi, honey, 1% or 2% milk? Okay, see you soon. Bye." is fine and probably takes less time than typing out the text and the other party doing the same. [The % character is likely going to require switching between keyboards letter->symbols and back again.]

        • It really begs the question of what could be so important to type that it needs to be done while standing in a checkout line.

          The grocery list?

          (On another topic: your sig is feeding the trolls.)

          On another topic: your post is feeding the Grammar Nazis. It raises the question. Begging the question [wikipedia.org] means something completely different, and certainly not what you intended.

          • by hedwards (940851)

            Grow up, begging the question is the same thing as raising the question, it means that something somebody has said begs further questions to be asked. Begging the question is something completely different and it's contextually clear which one the GP was intending.

            • by hedwards (940851)

              I should have been more specific. The second begging the question is the logical fallacy. The first is just the phrase that means raises the question.

              • The first is just the phrase that means raises the question.

                The first is wrong.

                • by knarfling (735361)

                  The second is wrong. "Begging the question" as a logical fallacy is a mistranslation of a Latin term. (Your signature would leave one to believe that you would be less favorably inclined towards the group basing their phrases on mistranslations of Latin.) The term is better translated as "Demanding the first principle" and is better understood today as "Circular Reasoning."

                  Just because people have been doing it wrong for hundreds of years does not mean that we have to purpetuate that wrong. Language evolve

                • by hedwards (940851)

                  No, it's not. Apart from hardcore pedants, everybody else accepts it as a legitimate meaning for the phrase. Bottom line is that things like this mean what they do by consensus, not because people refuse to recognize newer definitions.

                  And I suppose you don't accept that "literally all the time" does not necessarily mean constantly.

        • by tepples (727027)

          It really begs the question of what could be so important to type that it needs to be done while standing in a checkout line.

          It's not necessarily the ability to type in a checkout line. It's the ability to read something to pass the time in a checkout line, and I've found that inconvenient with a laptop. The advantage of a device with no permanently attached physical keyboard is that you can use it without the keyboard for reading when you're sure that you won't be doing any heavy-duty typing. It's true of a tablet, true of a phone, and probably true of the smart watch that the article appears to imply.

    • To obtain a special dialing wand, please mash the keypad with your palm now
  • Slashdot, you are now the one and only, lonely, single entry on the "watching a recast of yesterdays news unfold" category of bookmarks.

  • Why not get rid of the keyboard altogether and have voice control?
    • by wcrowe (94389)

      Because you might not want everyone in the room to hear the message you're sending.

      • by gmuslera (3436)
        Heck, if the government already cant see all that you type, people that you don't know and could put you in big trouble (or at least, big inspection next time you go to an airport) if don't get the joke [theblaze.com] of something you said, why can't the people around you, that you already know?
      • by kmoser (1469707)
        It could just read your lips, HAL-style.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why not get rid of the keyboard altogether and have voice control?

      Consider the following searches:
      "best hemorrhoid cream"
      "pubic lice shampoo"
      "best lubricant for anal"
      "does insurance cover generic viagra"
      "vaginal odor treatment"

      When you're at the pharmacy (or on the subway on the way there), would you prefer to enter those searches via keyboard or voice input?

    • Lack of privacy is a big one, as others have pointed out.

      It gets hard to concentrate if everyone in the office is talking at once.

      In public spaces, we already know that people get annoyed when they can only hear what sounds like one side of a conversation (see: cellphones) since it breaks from the natural back-and-forth that our brains expect and can easily ignore. How much more annoying to just have someone prattling on constantly?

      The keyboard does a number of things that speaking is ill-suited to handle.

  • Smartwatches? Keyboards? Time to resurrect the Timex/Sinclair brand!

  • by ankhank (756164) * on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @10:47AM (#43600449) Journal

    This is guaranteed to screw up people's ability to accurately place their fingers.

    Same reason I turn off AutoCorrect -- because when the user can just wave and poke at the approximate area of the keyboard -- and get the right letter supplied -- the brain fuzzes over its map of the keyboard and the finger placement becomes imprecise. Or rather exactly precise enough to get the desired result -- which is pretty damn sloppy when the computer's taking care of the final accuracy.

    'oogle brain mapping dystonia -- lots of academic work on this, it's a serious problem.

    Sorry, CMU, this is going to cripple people if you implement it.
    Not right away, it'll take some time before the damage is apparent.

    • If the computer's good enough to get the right letter out of a vague approximation of position on a mini keyboard, it ought to be able to read my handwriting.

      Want to do input on a tiny little area or just by waving your hands in the air?

      Penmanship. Just make the computer able to read handwriting.

    • I turned off autocorrect on my Android phone because it constantly filled in the wrong word. This as opposed to Word, which rarely did.

      Maybe it was the higher error rate, or maybe it was too dumb not to correct proper nouns, who knows? But off it went. And his problem irritated me to near death within a few sentences, it was so pervasive.

      • by ankhank (756164) *

        Is that an "autocorrect what you typed" feature, or an "autocomplete before you type anything more" feature?

  • by femtobyte (710429) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @10:50AM (#43600485)

    Isn't it amazing how great the advancement of technology is for device usability! Now people can type at an amazing *9.3* words per minute! It's hard to imagine how we ever got by back in the old days, when a casual typist could only achieve 30-60 WPM --- uphill through the snow both ways barefoot. Progress!

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      It's hard to imagine how we ever got by back in the old days, when a casual typist could only achieve 30-60 WPM --- uphill through the snow both ways barefoot. Progress!

      In the old days, the only keyboard on your watch was for a calculator and maybe address book. It is pretty amazing how great the advancement of technology is for device usability - not having to hit a shitty tiny membrane key three or four times to get a letter is a significant advance in watch technology.

      • by femtobyte (710429)

        Old and broken:

        Darn, I'd like to type this message up, but my computer terminal is all the way over in Sector W. It'll take me 8 minutes of walking, just for 2 minutes to type and send the message.

        New hotness:

        I can send a message right from where I am, on my watch! All I have to do is fiddle with my wrist for 12 minutes, and voila, instant gratification!

        All the advances in wristwatch IO are fixing problems created by insisting on doing stupid shit on a wristwatch that a wristwatch isn't any good for. Looking forward to future technological advances, like:

        Shaving by burning my hair off with a hot clothes iron used to be incredibly painful... but with advances in rapid temperature control, my new techno-iron can singe off my hair with 78% less third-degree-burn scars, while reading me live updates from my twitfeed!

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          All the advances in wristwatch IO are fixing problems created by insisting on doing stupid shit on a wristwatch that a wristwatch isn't any good for.

          One day we'll all have natural voice DWIM interfaces and then this problem will be moot. Until then, some people will be trying to solve the problem of letting people make their devices do the things they want to do. It would be nice if we all had access to a big screen and all the input devices we could ever want no matter where we went, but until we can pull them out of a pocket dimension we're still going to want to use small devices to do jobs that could better be done with a large device if only we had

          • by femtobyte (710429)

            Someday, when new snazzy technology catches up to the point of actually improving over older systems, I'll sign up too. For a tiny fraction of the population, perhaps the bleeding-edge whizzies already do offer something useful (...at least points on the conspicuous consumption fashion scoreboard). However, I see a lot of people leaping two steps back to grab that one step forward promised by the latest-and-greatest micro-doodad.

            Hey, I'm gonna burn six hours of my wages per month on a fancy smartphone contract, so I can twit my facebook angrybirds in the grocery line! Timesaver! And now I've got way better things to do while driving than watch the boring road!

  • by beaverdownunder (1822050) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @10:56AM (#43600539)

    but I'm sure hopeful there are better input methods than this!

  • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @11:12AM (#43600695)

    On screen keyboards suck, period.

    Having to tap several times to get to the key you want is a nuisance. This will be the one thing that ruins any new smart watch device, assuming you must type text on the screen using a keyboard to interact with it.

    At some point you have to accept that just because it has a screen and processor in it along with wireless communications does not mean it has to become a social platform or even one that requires text input.

    If app designers for new smartwatch devices are thinking about solutions for how to solve on-screen typing they have already failed. There is a reason why phones are moving to larger and larger screens because people find text input on smaller screens a horrendous experience. A small 2" watch screen is not going to have any adequate method for text input, so don't bother with the functionality.

    I don't see why we need smart watches, but we need them even less as a social/texting platform.

    • by locopuyo (1433631)
      I can type well over 30 wpm using the Swift Key on screen keyboard on my phone which is faster than a fair amount of people using a regular keyboard on a PC. I am not some sort of freak with my fingers, the predictive software is just that good.
    • Onscreen keyboards would be OK if they actually did less.

      Give me arrow keys right there, so I can scroll the cursor to where I want instead of trying to press a seven hundred square foot fintertip between two hugging ants.

      Stop "helping" me with backspace. I will decide when to release, not you. I don't want you erasing the entire 500 word essay because I held it down for 5s. Especially without an undo. Mac solved this problem 30 fucking years ago.

      "It seems'" says Morpheus, "that those idiot programmer

    • A thousand times this.

  • by doconnor (134648) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @11:13AM (#43600717) Homepage

    The old Palm watch came with a tiny stylus that let you write on the touch screen using their Graffiti system. A normal palm had a separate part of the screen for writing. The watch has some why of switch the screen from tapping mode to writing mode.

  • For the size of the displays in the paper would a simple box for tracing letters and better handwriting recognition software be better?
  • ...except that, instead of hitting the same key a variable number of times, you'll be hitting the screen multiple times (i.e. until you manage to focus in on your target). Perfectly do-able, but not ergonomically ideal.
  • by gmuslera (3436) on Wednesday May 01, 2013 @01:20PM (#43601901) Homepage Journal

    Using the input method of a bulky device (whose letters were ordered that way to not let you write too fast to avoid jamming of mechanical parts) with fixed letter positions for very high tech, digital small devices, with no mechanical parts that could jam could not be the best approach.

    Maybe entry could be arranged like in compressing algorithms, having the most common letters and words right at your reach (few bits/touches) and you could navigate to more uncommon ones that fits in your input. Or handwritting recognition, but with extended "alphabet" (where you can have different gestures for i.e. common words). Or hardware keyboards with soft keys.

    • Using the input method of a bulky device (whose letters were ordered that way to not let you write too fast to avoid jamming of mechanical parts) with fixed letter positions for very high tech, digital small devices, with no mechanical parts that could jam could not be the best approach.

      Maybe entry could be arranged like in compressing algorithms, having the most common letters and words right at your reach (few bits/touches) and you could navigate to more uncommon ones that fits in your input. Or handwritting recognition, but with extended "alphabet" (where you can have different gestures for i.e. common words). Or hardware keyboards with soft keys.

      Yes please for the love of god can we kill QWERTY on small-form keyboards? Putting three vowels right next to each other is a major annoyance. bug/big/bog, suck/sick/sock, un/in/on, if/of ..... so many common words that can end up wrong by just a couple millimeters, in such a way that autocorrect will never catch them.

  • Just suprised no-one has thought of this solution before. Acedemics, pfft!
  • BTW, speaking of marvel and CMU: isn't today or tomorrow the judge expected to rule on that $1B patent-infringement claim: http://tech.slashdot.org/story/12/12/27/1344231/jury-hits-marvell-with-1-billion-fine-over-cmu-patents [slashdot.org].
  • I've found phone-sized on-screen keyboards almost completely unusable. So much so that I tote around a Bluetooth keyboard with my phone when I think I'll have cause to enter a lot of text. What is with this trend of making devices' input options so fucking horrible? Remind me why we did away with the rather elegant solution of using styluses on touch screens?

    And to anyone who says "use speech recognition"? It doesn't work for me. I get atrocious (70%+/-) accuracy with it due to my gravelly voice.

The meta-Turing test counts a thing as intelligent if it seeks to devise and apply Turing tests to objects of its own creation. -- Lew Mammel, Jr.

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