Though there are a number of alternatives available, the QWERTY keyboard layout (and regional variants) is the input king. But its crown can slip a little when users try and flex their touch typing skills on the flat surface of a smart device such as a tablet. Zack Dennis came to the rescue in 2012 with a chorded keyboard concept called ASETNIOP that used 10 input points for the most frequently-used letters in the English language, and a combination of finger inputs for the rest. Now that keying system has launched for iOS and Android tablets.
Each finger of an ASETNIOP virtual keyboard user is assigned to one of eight home keys representing the letters of the system's name – so that's A for the left pinky, S for the left ring finger, N for the right index, and so on. The thumbs take care of the shift key and the space bar. A single press and release of a key onscreen will result in the finger-assigned letter. Other letters in the alphabet (along with numbers, punctuation, symbols and function commands) are generated by pressing key combinations of two or more.
"Assigning a specific key to each finger means that instead of existing as a projection on a two-dimensional surface, the virtual keyboard is effectively moved to the tips of the user's fingers," explained Dennis. "As long as the actions of these fingers can be reliably tracked, the keyboard's response can be tailored to perfectly match the user's hand size and typing patterns. A visual interface only remains necessary in the same way that labels on physical keys are necessary – as reminders."
The chord combinations have been designed to be intuitive to keyboard users and easy to learn. ASETNIOP also features stenographic combinations, making it possible to generate entire words – such as "the" or "and" – by simultaneously pressing three or more keys. And virtual keyboard essentials like predictive text and autocorrect have been built in too.
When a user memorizes the home keys and chorded combinations, the visual interface becomes surplus to requirements, which can then lead to a touch typing-like text output experience. Dennis says that once mastered, touch typists could achieve keying speeds in excess of 100 words per minute, which is somewhat impressive.
Though the current app release is geared specifically at tablets, Dennis reckons that the system is ready for use in future virtual or augmented environments, too. For example, sensor-packed gloves could register keystrokes in mid air, and gesture recognition hardware can track and translate hand movements.
The mobile app for tablets is available now from Apple's App Store and Google Play for US$4.99. Language modules for English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Swedish, and Turkish are available, and alternate layouts for Dvorak and Colemak users can be had as well. You can see the kind of keying speed possible in the demo video below.
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