Despite its intentionally obtuse layout, the QWERTY keyboard has been a part of our lives since it debuted on a typewriter in the 1880s. However, the increasingly thumb-driven nature of smartphone and tablet typing has revealed previously unseen flaws in the QWERTY layout. The time is right for a new arrangement of alphabetic characters on mobile devices, and a group of researchers think they’ve found the optimal solution.
Christened KALQ after a particular arrangement of letters, this brand-new keyboard layout has been designed to allow thumb-typing at speeds well in excess of anything possible using the time-honoured QWERTY template. KALQ organises letters into neat banks of four, with a cluster positioned at either side of a mobile device. Although this layout will initially seem unfamiliar, the developers claim it will only take around eight hours of use before typing speeds can match QWERTY keyboards. After this, it will be possible to type more quickly and more comfortably, with less tendon stretching required to reach letters like Y or G. Users of KALQ can apparently manage 37 words per minute, compared to 20 with the QWERTY layout.
The science behind KALQ is rather complex, which is perhaps unsurprising considering its creators included researchers at the University of St Andrews, the Max Planck Institute for Informatics, and Montana Tech. This eclectic team used computational optimisation techniques, probabilistic error correction methods and simulated thumb movements to rule out millions of different layouts. Left- and right-handed variants of the winning combination will be available, and the key layout reflects the fact that many regularly-used words like “on”, “see”, “you”, and “read” all rely on a single thumb when using the QWERTY formation. Conversely, KALQ has been programmed to minimise strings of single-finger typing, in favour of constantly switching between thumbs – all the vowel keys are situated on one side, whereas the opposite keyboard contains more letters overall.
KALQ is set to be debuted at the CHI 2013 conference in Paris on May 1st, which is described as “the principal international forum for outstanding research and development in human-computer interaction.” Alternatively, for anyone not planning on attending this landmark event, the KALQ app should be available for download onto any Android device within a couple of weeks.
KALQ will be available to download as a free app for all Android-based devices, from mid-May onwards. Further information can be obtained by visiting here.