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Input Devices Android Displays Microsoft

Microsoft Develops Analog Keyboard For Wearables, Solves Small Display Dilemma 100

MojoKid writes Have you ever tried hunting and pecking on a miniature keyboard that's been crammed onto a smartwatch's tiny display? Unless the tips of your fingers somehow resemble that of a stylus, you're in for a challenge. Interestingly enough, it's Microsoft that might have the most logical solution for typing on small size displays running Google's Android Wear platform. Microsoft's research division has built an analog keyboard prototype for Android Wear that eliminates the need to tap at tiny letters, and instead has you write them out. On the surface, such a solution seems like you'd be trading one tedious task for another, though a demo of the technology in action shows that this could be a promising solution — watch how fast the guy in the video is able to hammer out a response.
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Microsoft Develops Analog Keyboard For Wearables, Solves Small Display Dilemma

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  • Great "invention" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 12, 2014 @12:27PM (#48124329)

    LOL Microsoft developed an analog keyboard. OR they just remembered how their palm pilots worked and ported it to android..

    • LOL Microsoft developed an analog keyboard. OR they just remembered how their palm pilots worked and ported it to android..

      my thought exactly, and then I recall how blackberry took a big chunk of the pda market from palm. perhaps the smaller form factor will make it compelling again.

      on the otherhand apple watch already demoed transmitting drawn shapes on their watch presumably for the same rationale of input to a small form factor.

      • It looks like you don't have to learn a gesture alphabet like Graffiti. I also recall that, even if you were quite fast and accurate, graffiti's WPM just couldn't compete with keyboard, even a touch one. And even then it still has to compete with the various speech-to-text solutions.

        And then the iWatch thing is altogether a different thing -- Siri and "Ok Google" are meant for speedy text entry, at the expense of discretion; this finger writing thing seems to be meant to be still text-based but more disc

    • Re:Great "invention" (Score:5, Informative)

      by PPH ( 736903 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @12:41PM (#48124395)

      Yep. They re-invented Grattiti [wikipedia.org]. Knowing how the USPTO works, they'll probably get the patent as well.

      • that should be "Graffiti"
      • by Duhavid ( 677874 )

        When Apple "invents" it, will it be called iGraffit?

      • Yep. They re-invented Grattiti [wikipedia.org].

        This is a *LOT* different to Graffiti. Graffiti was based on simple gestures for inputting characters rather than character recognition, for example to put in an exclamation mark you didn't draw an exclamation mark, you had to know gesture for producing one, which was to draw a vertical line from top to bottom. That method is entirely unintuitive because you have to remember not what the character looks like but what the gesture for drawing it is.

      • Now that's an idea, Age of "on a computer" maybe over but nobody said you can't attach "on a watch" to get a patent
    • by DrXym ( 126579 )

      LOL Microsoft developed an analog keyboard. OR they just remembered how their palm pilots worked and ported it to android..

      To be fair to Microsoft, they did have handwriting recognition in PocketPC devices too - several modes in fact from simple Palm-like chars, to handwriting and a keyboard. That said I found my Palm Pilot's system to be very reliable once I learned all the funny strokes for each letter. PocketPC was always hit and miss and I used the keyboard mode the most.

      It seems pretty obvious to do something like this in a watch and I guess it's better than nothing but it highlights why smart watches have such a long wa

  • by james_shoemaker ( 12459 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @12:34PM (#48124359)

    Isn't this basically what the original palm computers did for text entry?

    • IIRC you needed a stylus to write effectively on those, no?

      Microsoft may actually have made some genuine progress in signal processing and machine learning to allow you to write with your fingertips.

      • with experience graffiti worked fine with finger tips. the stylus just let you see things better

      • Pity they didn't found about Teeline. It always looked quite "computerizable" to me, perhaps with some modifications. And you write words with single strokes.
        • The trouble with shorthand is that it takes a lot of effort to learn, and there are quite a few ambiguities that tend to creep up when you're omitting most of the vowels. Deciphering what someone else has written often relies on context, and machines still don't do too well at that.

          Inputting in shorthand does seem a neat idea, but the likes of Swiftkey have made it even less likely to appear.

          • You're of course right, but to me it seems that there isn't much of a difference between the simplified strokes of Graffiti-like systems and the strokes of some geometric shorthand notations. In addition, there's autocorrect: you're saying that "machines are bad at deciphering ambiguities", but Swiftkey is already doing exactly the same thing you'd need for a shorthand recognizer - it's looking for the "maximum likelihood" solutions to keystroke sequences or finger trajectories, including (I'm speculating h
      • by dovgr ( 935487 )
        No, graffiti works with the finger as well. Grafitti is currently my prefered text input method on my phone. See: https://play.google.com/store/... [google.com]
      • by Duhavid ( 677874 )

        Assuming they made such progress, shouldn't any patents be about original ideas and techniques in the signal processing and/or machine learning and not on the kinda obvious by now idea of using unique symbols drawn on the item's surface to communicate letters and words?

        • I don't know why everyone is confused about this, but this isn't "unique symbols." The palm pilot input method was innovative because it solved two problems with handwriting recognition. The first problem was that there was nowhere near enough processing power to run a real handwriting recognition algorithm (which existed at the time). The second was that because you are writing each letter in the same space, there is less information to work with. Without character spacing, you have no idea whether a strok
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Isn't this called Graffiti?

    • I think a laser projected keyboard that projects onto the side of the forearm or wrist would make more sense.

      Something like these--
      http://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UT... [amazon.com]

      coupled with the projector technology that was incorporated into some phones a few years back:

      http://www.gizmochina.com/2012... [gizmochina.com]

      Basically, the smartwatch just beams a tiny 3 row keyboard onto the wearer's wrist/forearm whenever it detects that the wearer's hand is in the "typing zone". Then the wearer taps away on their arm, and the smartphone reg

      • Personally, I'd be fine with a wider watch. It's not like I need articulation on my forearm. Think "Less like a watch, more like a pip-boy."

        Obviously, the trick would be to make it thin, lightweight, and comfortable enough that people would actually wear it. But even if you just made it the width of a standard cell phone keyboard, you could have one-hand operation at roughly twice the width of a standard watch. the extra width should even allow you to spread the components out over a larger area, allow

      • by Duhavid ( 677874 )

        No, no. We need the "liptop" computer.

        Display will be laser projection in front of your eyes, input will be speech recognition.

        It may take a while for these to take off for the ladies....

  • by jeti ( 105266 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @12:37PM (#48124379) Homepage
    This reminds me of the Graffiti [wikipedia.org] input method Palm developed for its devices. It was used on a small touch pad, before larger touch screens became available.
  • Going in circles (Score:5, Informative)

    by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Sunday October 12, 2014 @12:49PM (#48124451) Homepage

    Does anyone else remember Palm devices having a little handwriting recognition box at the bottom, with the Graffiti? Hopefully this system does a better job at recognizing handwriting, but it's hardly a novel idea. I'm half expecting that next, someone is going to release a groundbreaking new smartwatch with a physical keyboard that looks like a casio watch.

    Not that I object to drawing on old approaches in designing new products, but I can't help but roll my eyes if Microsoft is going to try to claim that this is innovative. Off the top of my head, it seems like we've had 4 different methods for text input: physical keyboards, virtual keyboards, handwriting recognition, and speech recognition. Each has problems that are fairly well understood. Speech recognition has gotten better in the past couple years, and Swype-style virtual keyboards (analyzing shape rather than simply button pressing) is fairly innovative, but I'm not seeing how this is actually a new thing, other than implementing it on a watch.

    • by vanyel ( 28049 )

      The original graffiti system worked quite well for me and I've missed it ever since..

      • Re:Going in circles (Score:5, Informative)

        by pruss ( 246395 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @02:57PM (#48125153) Homepage

        There is an official port of Graffiti for Android in Google Play.

        • Wow. I might have to switch to an Android phone. I really miss Graffiti.

          Now, all of you, off my lawn.

        • by vanyel ( 28049 )

          Is it Graffiti 1 or 2? They rather crippled it with 2, over IP ownership issues as I recall... Still, I'll give it a try, thanks!

      • My memory of it was that it kind-of-sort-of worked most of the time. Kind of. It was a bit slow-going and there were some characters it would be finicky about recognizing some characters. Of course, that was over 10 years ago now, and I don't actually remember very well. I just remember being disappointed that it didn't work as well as I'd hoped.

        I don't doubt that part of the problem was my awful handwriting. I've spent most of my life typing, and my handwriting was barely legible when I was practicin

        • I got really good at Graffiti. I'm an indifferent typist - 20-30 wpm and could almost keep up with the Palm. The nice thing is I didn't have to look at the (tiny little) screen.

          • I'm with you. I thought Graffiti was stupid until I spent 10 minutes using it and became proficient, and then quickly became much more than proficient. Until I discovered Google's swipe keyboard for my Android phone, I regularly wished for something like Graffiti.

  • I know I can't write longhand as fast as I can type, not even counting the time spent correcting interpretation errors made by the software. I guess Microsoft wants us to all learn shorthand...
  • 1984 Called (Score:5, Informative)

    by Nkwe ( 604125 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @01:08PM (#48124537)
    An update to the Casio AT-550 [youtube.com]?
    • Did you notice (the link at the bottom) that the guy in the video apparently works at Microsoft Research? ;-)
    • by kesuki ( 321456 )

      the first real world mass market character recognition i used was brain age 2 for nintendo ds and if you didn't start the characters the right stroke for stroke recognition it would screw up on you.

      with many millions of users of the ds and it's descendants it is clear that microsoft is reinventing the wheel again.

    • by Alsee ( 515537 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @02:32PM (#48125041) Homepage

      Your link is for a 30 year old watch with a touch screen that lets you enter numbers and symbols.
      This story is a new invention watch with a touch screen that lets you enter numbers and symbols and letters.

      That's why Microsoft deserves a patent on it.

      -

      • by Duhavid ( 677874 )

        They deserve a patent for adding letters to numbers and *symbols*?

        What are letters? Symbols.

        What is new, unique, and non-obvious about this?

        In my opinion, not one thing. Work on it, talk about it, but no patent.
        I'm sure they will apply for one, and likely get it. But I don't think a patent is deserved here.

  • by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @01:19PM (#48124583)

    Handwriting input is routine for input of Chinese characters on mobile phones, and has been for many years already. The character recognition part works quite well there, and is certainly a lot harder than for the very limited Western alphabet. So unless I'm missing something, there doesn't seem to be anything innovative about it.

    • Chinese characters have a stroke order when painting/drawing them. So maybe they're somewhat easy?
      Graffiti was arguably similar in codifying how you draw letters, not just how they look.

    • and is certainly a lot harder than for the very limited Western alphabet.

      Just a guess, but maybe Chinese writing is a lot more consistent between different people. The complexity of the characters probably means they have to be drawn quite precisely to be readable.

      http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/... [wiktionary.org]

      • Re:Nothing new (Score:4, Informative)

        by Harlequin80 ( 1671040 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @07:28PM (#48126355)

        Kanji dictionaries work based on the stroke count and each stroke must be done in a set order and in a set direction. If it wasn't for the fact they have 220000000000 characters it would make a great input method. It wouldn't be technically hard to change western alphabet to a set drawing method but be almost impossible to implement.

    • Fun fact: most Chinese people use Pinyin input. Handwriting is used...but not usually. It's slower, while Pinyin is just faster. Or so I've been told when I've asked why people don't use handwriting input when they're clearly capable of it.
      • Never seen pinyin in great use: too many homophones for that to work well. There are much better methods than pinyin.

        However those methods only work well with a keyboard, while handwriting works better on small screens like mobile phones. Looking around me on the MTR I see most people use handwriting, some use other methods (such as "nine stroke" which basically uses the numerical phone keyboard for character input, advantage is that the soft keys on the screen are of reasonable size).

  • bing dat (Score:5, Funny)

    by geoskd ( 321194 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @01:30PM (#48124649)

    I especially love the part in the MS research video where they use Google to perform a search...

    Priceless

    • by glwtta ( 532858 )
      Gosh, how awful of Microsoft to let their research labs get on with research, rather than constantly cramming corporate identity branding down their throats.

      Truly evil.
      • It is a marketing issue. It is saying to the general public: Microsoft products suck so badly that not even their own employees use them!

        If I remember correctly, Microsoft had a smartwatch many years ago that could only tell the time if it had a Wi-Fi connection, I am SHOCKED that it didn't catch on.

  • by AC-x ( 735297 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @01:51PM (#48124791)

    it's Microsoft that might have the most logical solution for typing on small size displays running Google's Android Wear platform. Microsoft's research division has built an analog keyboard prototype for Android Wear that eliminates the need to tap at tiny letters, and instead has you write them out.

    Why would you want to type at all? There's reasonably good voice recognition now, that's got to be better than trying to finger-paint letters on a tiny watch screen?

    • by narcc ( 412956 )

      Because not everyone wants to broadcast what they're writing. The silence is nice for the people around the user as well.

      Have you ever been stuck around some yahoo talking way too loud on their mobile? It's irritating.

      • Because not everyone wants to broadcast what they're writing. The silence is nice for the people around the user as well.

        Have you ever been stuck around some yahoo talking way too loud on their mobile? It's irritating.

        I find that it most situations I can talk to my watch without annoying anyone. I just hold it right next to my mouth and speak softly enough that only someone standing very close could hear, and then not well. This works well even in very noisy environments.

        There are some circumstances in which this would be nice because neither talking to the watch nor pulling out my phone are workable. But it's a pretty small set.

    • by lowspeedhighdrag ( 790672 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @03:34PM (#48125323)
      Voice recognition for texting? One of these days we may be able to talk directly to each other through our Mobil devices! Won't that be amazing!
    • by Fubari ( 196373 )
      reasonably good voice recognition? Maybe, for a given value of "good'.
      Voice recognition is hit or miss for me on android now... it works "reasonably good" provided I have....
      1) Low background noise.
      2) Solid network connection to upload & process voice sample on google's server farms.
      3) In a place where I can talk and don't care if others hear what i'm saying.

      So when it works I am suitably impressed, but it doesn't work often and I'm not always able to use it.

      Just a data point: my ancient Palm [wikipedia.org]
  • And it's fucking annoying!
  • "Have you ever tried hunting and pecking on a miniature keyboard that's been crammed onto a smartwatch's tiny display? "

    Smartwatch? You young whippersnappers, you don't know what 'tiny' is.
    We had Casio Calculator watches in the eighties.
    Those had real tiny, real hardware buttons that had to be pushed hard.

    And now get off my lawn.

  • I don't know how right handed people do it, but as lefty, I wear my watch on my left hand, so I'd be trying to write wiith my right hand.

    Then again, a smartwatch is pretty much up there with those goofy wristwatch calculators in my book.

    • by ncc74656 ( 45571 ) *

      I don't know how right handed people do it, but as lefty, I wear my watch on my left hand

      You're doing it wrong. :-) You put your watch on the non-writing wrist. I'm right-handed, and I've always worn watches on the left. If I wore them on the right, the wristband would've scraped against the paper or the desk as I was writing.

      Then again, who needs a watch anymore when your cellphone shows network-synchronized time that never needs adjustment?

  • There even used to be a 1980s calculator watch which used the watchface so you could draw on your digits. The technology is rather simple so it is a logical thing to do.

    The problem is, while it works for calculators, writing complex command lines is much harder.

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