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Researchers unveil thumb-optimised keyboard

Qwerty loses out to ‘KALQ’ system in age of smartphone and tablet

The Qwerty configuration limits users to 20 words per minute, researchers claimed.
The Qwerty configuration limits users to 20 words per minute, researchers claimed.

Engineers at St Andrews in Scotland and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany have collaborated on a virtual app for the Android OS that abandons the Qwerty convention and is designed to make thumb typing faster, the BBC website reported.

The Qwerty layout was developed in the1800s to optimise typing on early mechanical typewriters. But the researchers who developed the new keyboard claim that using the finger-oriented system on touch-screen devices, where users are prone to type with thumbs, limits text output to 20 words per minute.

The new keyboard is based around two grids of keys, one on the left of the touch-screen and one on the right, with four keys in each row. Named KALQ, after the bottom right row of keys, the exact configuration was arrived at through computational optimisation models, which determined the optimal layout. Much like the design of Qwerty, the researchers sought a design that minimised typing sequences that only involved a single thumb and ensured central placement of frequently used letter keys.

The resultant keyboard places all vowels on the right and assigns more keys to the left thumb.

"We believe KALQ provides a large enough performance improvement to incentivise users to switch and benefit from faster and more comfortable typing," said Dr Per Ola Kristensson, lecturer in human computer interaction at the School of Computer Science, University of St Andrews.

Researchers claimed that use of an error correction algorithm allowed trained users to achieve 37 words per minute, and that productivity would eventually encourage users to embrace the new keyboard.