Researchers try to improve smartwatch typing with two new keyboard concepts
Wearable devices are becoming more prominent, but, apart from voice control, they don't usually offer many ways of entering text. We have seen the ZoomBoard keyboard as one possible solution, as well as large, curved screens that use smartphone-like keyboards. Now a team of researchers from the Universitat Politècnica de València and the University of Stuttgart have developed two tiny QWERTY soft keyboard prototypes that supposedly allow users to enter text more easily into their wearables.
One of the prototypes is called Callout and its design draws inspiration from soft keyboards found in smartphones. When the user touches a key, the system creates a pop-up of the character requested in the upper part of the screen. The user can also move their finger slightly to change which key is being selected, and then enter the character by lifting that finger up.
The second prototype is called ZShift (pictured at the top of this article). It improves the Callout design by enhancing the visual feedback area by zooming in one level on the area that's obstructed by the user's finger (i.e., a zoomed-in portion of the keyboard, rather than one letter). It provides visual feedback of the key touched by using a background highlight.
The bi-national team of researchers chose QWERTY due to the public's familiarity with the layout, and then designed QWERTY keyboards for screen sizes ranging between 0.63-in and 1.26-in – a range that most of the current commercial smartwatches fit into.
The team says their prototypes expand on the concept behind ZoomBoard, which was developed by Carnegie Mellon University for very small screens. “[ZoomBoard] works really well for extremely small, coin-sized screens," say the researchers. "However, if we slightly increase the screen size, just a few millimeters do make a difference, and the text entry technique becomes a bit frustrating and inefficient. Our prototypes are aimed at solving these issues."
Without using the team's concepts first-hand, it's hard for us to say much about their merit, but the descriptions of the keyboards don't sound very different from what we've already seen from existing mobile keyboards. Many smartphone and tablet virtual keyboards, for example, already pop-up the current character above where your finger is resting, so you could argue that this is just a shrunken-down version of existing UI choices. Cramming a QWERTY keyboard onto the lower half of a smartwatch screen every time you enter text would also make for a pretty cluttered-up design, perhaps not the most consumer-friendly choice.
The team presented their prototypes in the ACM conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems, which took place in April in Seoul, Korea.