Touchscreen Qwerty layout “belongs in the past”

Researchers at the University of St Andrews claim Qwerty keyboards on touchscreens are an anachronism, and have come up with a new system for typing with two thumbs.

Touchscreen Qwerty layout

According to the team behind the project, the KALQ keyboard’s layout makes the most of the way people write on touchscreen devices, placing keys in the positions that are best suited to thumb controls. The team claims that in tests users were able to input data 34% more quickly than with a Qwerty touchscreen interface.

The QWERTY layout is ill-suited for tablets and other touchscreen devices when typing with both thumbs

“The legacy of Qwerty has trapped users with sub-optimal text entry interfaces on mobile devices,” said Per Ola Kristensson, whose team ran a computer optimisation models to define the most efficient layout. “The Qwerty layout is ill-suited for tablets and other touchscreen devices when typing with both thumbs.”

The team said that by rearranging the letters and splitting them into two distinct groups, typing speeds receive a significant boost. “The key to optimising a keyboard for two thumbs is to minimise long typing sequences that only involve a single thumb. It is also important to place frequently used letter keys centrally close to each other,” the researchers said.

“Experienced typists move their thumbs simultaneously: while one thumb is selecting a particular key, the other thumb is approaching its next target.”

With practice, the researchers said, users can input 37 words a minute, compared to the 20 words per minute that texters normally reach on a regular Qwerty layout.

The KALQ keyboard will be made available as a free app for Android smartphones, after being presented to the industry next month.

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