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A keyboard optimized for thumbs

Posting in Technology

Thumb for all and all for thumb. Goodbye QWERTY, hello KALQ. It might help if you trim your nails too.

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Does typing seem like some pre-mechanization era chore when you're balancing your touchscreen device on your fingers and clumsily pivoting your thumbs towards the keys? Is it the cyber equivalent of a plow horse?

Come back to the 21st century, with the new "KALQ" virtual touchscreen keypad that rearranges the keys in a manner optimized for your thumbs.

KALQ will be available as a free app on Android devices. It comes from that usual group of collaborators: Scotland's University of St. Andrews, Germany's Max Planck Institute for Informatics, and Montana's Montana Tech.

The developers say that the traditional QWERTY keyboard limits touchscreen users to a plodding 20 words per minute. KALQ nearly doubles that, they claim.

"Two-thumb typing is ergonomically very different from typing on a physical keyboard," St. Andrews says in a press release. "The QWERTY layout is ill-suited for tablets and other touchscreen devices when typing with both thumbs."

KALQ minimizes the cumbersome instances of typing consecutive letters with the same thumb, such as with common text message words like "on, see, you," the university notes. All vowels are on the right side. The left side has the majority of keys.

"The key to optimizing a keyboard for two thumbs is to minimize long typing sequences that only involve a single thumb," says senior researcher Antti Oulasvirta from Max Planck. "Experienced typists move their thumbs simultaneously: while one thumb is selecting a particular key, the other thumb is approaching its next target."

Like QWERTY, KALQ is named for one of the lines of letters on the keypad.

If you're keen to learn more, then head to Paris, where the KALQ teams will present at the CHI 2013 human-computer interaction conference on May 1st.

Image from Max Planck Institute for Informatics

— By on April 24, 2013, 6:57 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure