For as long as the home computer has existed, there has basically been one type of keyboard. Although some may snap open in the middle for a more ergonomic set up, and others may feature a number pad for those who spend a lot of their time crunching data, the standard QWERTY layout is the norm. It’s the way people learn how to type, and obviously allows people to start using new hardware right away. Even if the operating system is different, the keyboard is blessedly familiar. But now there are tablet devices, those fantastic touchscreen computers that can do basically anything your laptop can do but in a magazine-sized package. They’re incredible machines, and rising sales declare their popularity is here to stay. Those touchscreen devices have caused some companies to rethink the keyboard, as the standard one just won’t do. Hence the birth of Snapkeys, a virtual keyboard that launched its beta test this week.
Snapkeys has truly revolutionized the keyboard for this new touchscreen reality. Gone is the QWERTY layout most of us have taken for granted. Instead you’ll find a keyboard based on only four, semi-transparent buttons. These virtual touchpoints each represent three letters, basically the most common letters you might access. One of the keys provides the letters I, Y and T, the second gives you W, N and A, the third E, S and L, and the fourth the R, D and O. Any other letters you require would be reached by tapping a spot in the screen’s center.
The translucent keys allow you to type without blocking any of the screen’s information, a very important feature and the real reason behind Snapkeys. You’d simply lose too much of your screen’s real estate with a full-sized keyboard. This virtual keyboard does come with a learning curve, but the bottom line is a more effective and pleasurable experience of your tablet device. Some of the things you can do with the virtual keyboard installed is see the instant results of a web search as you are typing or leave a comment on a YouTube video without having to toggle between screens.
But how does Snapkeys translate your typing with so few keys? It’s built off of the same technology you’ll find in modern word processing programs. Basically it fills in the most common word choices as you type, just as your smartphone does. But it also learns your tendencies as you use it, so it will improve its suggestions and your typing speed after some time. Eventually Snapkeys would be able to type out the entire word once you hit just a couple of smart keys. You can also add slang terms or proper names to the Snapkeys dictionary, so it further improves to your needs. The end result, according to the manufacturer, is a typing speed of 45 words each minute, and an expected accuracy of up to 99%. That easily beats what you’ll find on the vast majority of mobile keyboards.
Benjamin Ghassabian, the founder of Snapkeys and the company’s CEO declared that the trick was breaking away from the QWERTY design. The twelve letters you access through those four smart keys are used in upwards of 85% of your typing, making it much more efficient than the standard keyboard for mobile devices. Ghassabian felt you shouldn’t have to lose that much screen space, and the old keyboard was not made with this new reality in mind. Interested in trying this out for yourself? You may have to wait a little bit to get your hands on Snapkeys. It’s now in private beta testing in New York, Chicago and Austin technology centers amongst others. The public release will come next month.