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23 May 2013

Text goodbye to QWERTY?

Alternative text input methods for smart phones offer substantial benefits to users and are comparable with common typing speeds found on computer keyboards, according to research by Loughborough University’s Design School.

Writing in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Design Research, Tom Page, a lecturer in electronic product design, has assessed a number of different text input technologies available to smart phone users.

Tom reports how interaction design has become central to the development of small touch screen devices, particularly since the launch of the Apple iPhone in 2007.  Moreover, many users now have a smart phone mindset and treat their device in much the same way previous users worked with a laptop but with much greater portability.  As such, rapid text input methods have become essential for making smart phone users as efficient as they once were with typing on a laptop keyboard.

“In essence, smart phone interfaces today have been designed in completely different ways as users are starting or seeking to replace laptops and computers with small screen highly portable devices,” Tom says.  “Indeed, more people are becoming more proficient at creating, engaging, communicating and interacting via the smart phone screen.”

There are various text input methods on smart phones, including adaptation of the QWERTY layout that has been familiar to typists since the 19th century.  Other more ergonomic soft keyboard layouts such as DVORAK and ABCDE apparently improve typing comfort and speed, but many users and developers believe that these ought to be consigned to history in this era of small screens and broadband communications.  Other text input methods such as: OPTI, 8pen, Swiftkey, Swype, Keypurr and thick buttons exist and are gently nudging QWERTY and its derivatives off-screen and giving users much faster and more accurate text input methods.

“Fundamentally, the success or failure of any new interactive technology or text input method such as soft keyboards is determined by its usability,” says Tom.  “The ergonomic aspects of soft keyboard typing on a smart phone differ greatly from their physical counterpart.  This is why alternatives more suited to the small screen than QWERTY or ABCDE are needed.”

Tom Page comments on the fact that smart phones have been rapidly advancing technologically over the last few years but their approach to text input has lagged behind.  Even the apps that claim to accelerate input and sidestep the traditional keyboard often rely on user familiarity with QWERTY nevertheless.

There is much research and development yet to be done with touch screens
themselves and the text and other input technologies need to make smart phones even more ubiquitous and useful.

−ENDS−

Notes for editors

Article reference number: PR 13/91

1.  Photo: iStock Photography

2. Journal article "Usability of text input interfaces in smartphones" in J. Design Research, 2013, 11, 39-56

3. Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2011 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top universities in the UK, and has been voted England's Best Student Experience for six years running in the Times Higher Education league. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

It is a member of the 1994 Group of 11 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.

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