Some people are born with a knack for typing quickly on a mobile phone, clacking away at a virtual or physical keyboard as if it were attached to a desktop computer. But if you weren’t, there may be help, from 3qubits, a mobile phone software company started by two PhD mathematics student at Cambridge University in England. Their solution to tiny mobile keyboards is a new virtual keyboard they call 8Pen, expected to be introduced on Tuesday.
At first glance 8Pen replaces the traditional area of a keyboard with a multi-colored X and a large black dot. Letters seem to be randomly placed, yet the keyboard creators say there’s a rhyme and reason to every aspect of the new layout.
8PenThe 8Pen keyboard interface.
Michael Fester, who worked with his partner, Volker Schlue, to create the new interface, said in a phone interview that the new keyboard was born from a discussion about the frustration of typing on small mobile phones and constantly making mistakes.
“We really think this could replace keyboards for small devices,” Mr. Fester said. “At first we are going to launch with an Android version of the software, but we’ve filed a patent on the keyboard and want to build it out for the iPhone, Windows and even game controllers.”
On the company Web site the two 8Pen creators try to explain how to use their newfangled keyboard:
A character is produced by pressing down in the centre, entering any of the 4 sectors, and then passing through either 1, 2, 3 or 4 adjacent sectors in either clockwise or anti-clockwise direction, before returning to the centre. The order of the letters along the edges, and the side on which they are placed, indicate the number of sectors to be passed through, and the direction of the movement, respectively.
Sounds confusing, I know, but the interface is designed to recreate the action of handwriting and from a video accompanying the new keyboard interface, it looks as if it might actually work.
“From a personal use I was very amazed when I first used it,” Mr. Fester said. He said that it took him only 10 minutes to feel comfortable with the interface, and that it didn’t take long before he could type as quickly as on a traditional desktop keyboard.
“It looks confusing, but it’s really just a matter of using your finger to create a number of circles and figure 8s on your phone,” Mr. Fester said.
8Pen is going to have some competition. Swype, a software company based in Seattle, offers a keyboard interface that lets users “glide a finger across the virtual keyboard to spell words, rather than tapping out each letter.” But the Swype keyboard doesn’t rearrange the keys or placement of the letters.