For the touch typist, the tablet and smartphone experience is often a frustrating one. While it is possible to key in characters without looking at the virtual keyboard, efficiency and accuracy are a whole lot easier to achieve with physical points of reference. Tactile overlays like the TouchFire can help, but you still lose at least half the screen to the keyboard. Wireless keyboards are a much safer bet but add bulk to the travel pouch. Zack Dennis has developed a virtual keyboard replacement called ASETNIOP which can be made invisible, is based on the QWERTY layout and allows for input using only ten touch points.
According to Dennis, ASETNIOP changes the emphasis from where a finger touches a key to which fingers are being pressed down at any given moment. The system is so-named because each of the eight primary keys represents the "the most commonly used letter that is normally pressed by that same finger." Seven of those are also among the most frequently-used letters in English language words.
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"The concept is pretty simple. The keyboard consists of only ten points – one for each fingertip," he says. "A single press-and-release of each finger produces the most common letter that would normally be obtained with that finger on a QWERTY keyboard (i.e. left pinky = A, left ring = S, left middle = E and so on, hence ASETNIOP). The less common letters of the alphabet are obtained by pressing chords – two fingers at the same time. The space bar remains the same – it's activated by one of your thumbs – and the other thumb is used to activate the shift function or to activate the predictive text/autofill feature."
"With a tablet version, that means that the buttons can be eight times as large as the virtual keyboard versions, and are easy to locate and strike, even when they're made completely transparent. With motion sensing devices like the LEAP, it won't matter where you put your fingers down – as long as the device can recognize your hands, you'll be able to type on any flat surface, and there's no need for any kind of projection. You can just tap away without needing to look at your hands."
Producing the letter F using the chord system involves pressing the left fourth and first fingers simultaneously, it's the right first and fourth for M, the left fourth and right first for Q, and so on. The system features a total of 28 chorded assignments, 18 for letters and ten for punctuation symbols. The allocation of thumb keys can be switched to accommodate left-handed people and both thumb keys pressed together activates the Enter key.
Dennis has even given serious thought to chord allocation. The choice of combination letter is based on three factors – the finger that would normally be used to strike the letter on a QWERTY keyboard, how often that letter is used, and the difficulty of the combination.
Chorded input methods are nothing new, but ASETNIOP has been designed specifically for those familiar with the QWERTY keyboard layout. As such, it's said to be much easier to learn than alternative schemes like Dvorak and Colemak, because instead of rewiring what you already know, you're simply adding a few new keystrokes. Once you have it mastered, typing speeds of up to 80 words per minute are achievable and the developer says that it won't adversely affect your ability on a regular keyboard.
A layout switch has been included in the shape of the devil horns finger press (first and fourth position on both hands) to access numbers and symbols. There's a built-in disambiguation scheme, too, that automatically correct words that are typed using only the primary keys but which are supposed to contain chorded letters. For example, if a user types in tnis, the system will correct the input to this. Where the input is ambiguous, users will be offered suggestions in a similar way to the T-9 method used for SMS messages on mobile phones. The suggestions are offered as chorded input selections, thereby teaching users to use combinations.
ASETNIOP also offers stenographic combinations capable of instantly producing digraphs, trigraphs and whole words when the user presses three or more keys simultaneously.
"The stenography part is actually one aspect that I think is particularly novel," Dennis told us. "It essentially creates shortcuts for common words, but the shortcuts don't actually have to be memorized. They're simply built out of the keys that make up the letters that make up the word. The combination for the is the best example because it's the easiest and most useful ... the T is pressed with the left index finger, the H is pressed as a chord with the right index and ring fingers, and the E is pressed with the left ring finger. Press all four (that's your four center fingers) and voila; the is the output. A similar process exists for dozens of other common words; like and, that, you, he, she, but, not, with, and more."
There's also an autocorrect feature that looks out for unintentional chorded input as well as misspelled words – so if a user inputs an S, followed by an E but then accidentally combines the A and T finger presses to produce an F, the system recognizes the possible error and either autocorrects or offers word suggestions.
Unfortunately, ASETNIOP isn't yet available to buy or download, although you can try it out for yourself at the concept's website.
Dennis explained that "at this point in time I'm trying to build up enough interest and enthusiasm to get it included as a platform for the LEAP when it ships next year, and to find some partners to help invest in foreign patent filings."
While we wait for wider availability, have a look at the demonstration video below.