Friday, 3 May 2013

KALQ – the keyboard of the future or an unnecessary QWERTY substitute?

In our fast paced society patience is apparently a dying attribute, especially regarding technology. When it comes to loading, connecting, updating and now even typing, the general consensus remains the same: the quicker the better.  

That’s why researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics have designed a new keyboard specifically created to speed up typing on tablets. Currently, the common practice for typing on tablets is to use two thumbs, a technique which is somewhat inefficient on the standard QWERTY keyboard.  

The KALQ keyboard (so called because the bottom four letters to the right read K A L Q) has been designed around the conventional horizontal grip adopted by a user typing on a tablet.  The letters are split into a 4x4 grid on the left and a 4x3 grid on the right which sit in the bottom corners of the screen. The aim is to minimise the moving time of the thumbs and thereby reduce strain. Commonly used letters are clustered together to reduce travel distance and to ensure that both hands work equally. In theory, the KALQ design prevents long sequences from having to be typed with one thumb by placing all the vowels in reach of the right hand and assigning more keys to the left. For left hand users the layout can be reversed. The hope is that eventually, experienced users should become so proficient that they will be able to use their thumbs simultaneously.

While creatively thought out and well engineered, adapting to the KALQ keyboard does require some effort, apparently taking eight hours for QWERTY users to learn. This, coupled with the fact that Bluetooth keyboards are a popular tablet accessory, prompts the question: is a KALQ keyboard necessary? As much as it might improve onscreen typing on tablets, as long as physical keyboards remain popular, it seems the KALQ keyboard may well be the solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Furthermore, one must question the practicalities of using the KALQ keyboard for phones, tablets and other such devices and the QWERTY for everything else. There is some doubt about whether all users will be able to switch smoothly between the two. 

We think it is probably better to be proficient at using a universal keyboard rather than having an optimal layout for every single device that makes use of a typing feature. We may not be able to type on a tablet as quickly as at a computer, but at least we won’t be hunting for the letters every time we switch machine.

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