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Text-entry algorithm renders Qwerty obsolete

Posted: 27 Sep 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Qwerty keyboard? text-entry algorithm? obsolete technique?

The venerable keyboard may be obsolete, according to Kannuu Inc., which demonstrated a one-thumb text-entry technique this week. By using smart software that anticipates the words being sought by users, the Kannuu data-entry method is said to enable a user of any device that has a screen and a four-way dial to input text with one thumb at speeds rivalling full-keyboard text entry.

"Kannuu enables quick and easy text entry with any device that has a screen and the ability to perform up, down, left, right and center selectionslike a TiVo, TV remote, STB or game controller, or even devices with no buttons at all, like an iPhone," said Kannuu CEO Sean-Michael Daley.

Compass points
The system works similarly to the data-entry completion techniques already offered by devices with small keyboards, such as cellphones and gaming controllers, which offer lists of possible words to complete partial entries. The main difference with Kannuu is that it offers only partial entries, not entire words, and the next most likely letters or group of letters is limited to four. The user selects from among partial entries on the four points of the displayed compassN, S, E and Wor clicks a central selection icon that brings up another group of possibilities.

"Our software displays its best guess at the character sequences you are most likely to need next, then presents them as multiple-choice selections around the four-way joystick-like dial that most portable devices have today anyway," Daley said. "F devices with a mouse or a touchscreen, the four-way dial is merely displayed on the screen, with a single choice at each of the four compass points, plus a centrally located icon."

The four-way dial even allows users to choose words by their initial character, and displays the four most often used first characters. If the first letter of the word you are looking for is not displayed, a quick click on the central icon brings up another four from which to choose. Then after the first character is chosen, the four points of the compass begin displaying the most likely partial words needed to complete the text entry, often requiring less than half as many clicks as would be needed to type out the word with a conventional, full-size keyboard, according to the company.

Kannuu claims that its presentation of only for four partial-word choices at a time, as opposed to a long list of complete words, matches the eidetic memory capabilities of most people. "We've done extensive psychological testing and found that viewing four entries at a time is optimal," said Daley. "If you give people more choices, it slows down their text entries."

Paul Brown, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics, said Kannuu's text-input method "shows promise, but the very fact that it is so different than what users are accustomed to means it has a learning curve. For one thing, you have to look at the screen, and our tests have shown that experienced typists don't want to have to look at the screen."

Fast and unique
The company nonetheless believes its system is not only faster but also unique, giving it a leg up on convincing OEMs whose equipment already uses four-way dials to adopt the data-entry technique for those existing devices. Existing cellphones, game consoles, digital cameras, STBs, remote controls and other consumer devices could offer the Kannuu data entry method as a simple software upgrade to products already in the field.

"The partial-word completion process is the key to our patents, because you don't need any additional hardware to make our system work," said Daley.

The company says the system can be implemented in multiple languages, even on devices with restricted memories, since its code length is measured in kbytes.

The system works even better when the item being spelled is from a restricted database, he said. For instance, to find a particular band's name in a music database, the algorithm would only present partial words that complete the names of bands included in the database.

Kannuu claims it has several companies in the final stages of evaluating the system, and predicts that its first design win is likely to be an online service that offers music downloads.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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