Smartwatches may not have found the immediate success that manufacturers were hoping for, and that might be due in part to the smaller screen making some functions, like entering text, more fiddly than they'd be on a phone. Now a team from Stony Brook University has developed a rotational keyboard that allows users to pick letters from a ring around the screen, like an old rotary phone.

To enter text on a watch at the moment, users either need to rely on an awkward onscreen QWERTY keyboard that takes up most of the display, or use dictation. But the Stony Brook system, which the team calls "Compass," uses the rotating bezel that some types of watches use for navigating menus.

Compass adds a ring of letters around the edge of the screen, and users select them by turning the bezel to move a trio of cursors. Once each letter is entered, the cursors use predictive text to jump around to the next most likely letters.

Not only is the system designed to make typing on a watch easier, but the team says it helps make better use of the screen shape. A rectangular keyboard doesn't leave much room for anything else, but in the case of Compass, the rest of the screen's contents can be scaled down inside the letter ring. Since it doesn't rely on a touchscreen, another advantage is that it can be used while wearing gloves.

Of course, it takes time for people to get used to the system, but the researchers ran some user testing sessions and found that after 90 minutes of practice, people were able to improve their typing speed from 10 words per minute to 12.5. That doesn't hold a candle to average speeds on a regular keyboard or a smartphone screen, but it seems to be better and more accurate than other smartwatch methods.

The research was presented at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems and the team demonstrates the Compass system in the video below.

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