We keep hearing about how smartwatches may replace – or at least augment – the smartphone, but how would you type on that tiny display? In some cases, where the watch is linked to a smartphone in your bag or pocket, you could just use the phone’s screen. For stand-alone smartwatches or quick messages, however, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have created the ZoomBoard system.

Developed by PhD students Chris Harrison and Stephen Oney, ZoomBoard displays a full miniature QWERTY keyboard when in its default mode. Tapping on that display, however, causes it to zoom in on the keys in the touched area of the keyboard. This makes it relatively easy to then select the specific key that you want.

Holding your finger on a key gets you a capital version of that letter, a swipe to the right produces a space (as does tapping the space bar), and a swipe to the left deletes a typed character. In order to access the number and symbol keys, an upward swipe is required.

In a test of the system using a 16 x 6-mm keyboard display (seen above), users were able to manage a typing speed of about 10 words per minute. “You aren’t going to write a novel, but it gets the job done,” said Oney. “This opens up new possibilities for devices such as smartwatches, which generally lack any means of entering text, as many aren’t powerful enough for voice recognition.”

As the software is further developed, a language model may be added – this is the system already in use in phones, that suggests words based on the first few letters typed. Harrison and Oney believe that ZoomBoard may also be helpful in full-sized touchscreen keyboards, for disabled users.

The system can be seen in use in the video below.

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