Touchscreen QWERTY keyboards for tablets and phones all have the same insurmountable problem: To type on them, you must look down at the keys to see what you’re doing. For users who can touch type on physical keyboards, the need to look down is a major speed bump.
A company called Snapkeys aims to solve that problem with the “2i,” a touchscreen keyboard with a so-called “invisible interface.”
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Instead of using a traditional QWERTY layout, Snapkeys 2i groups the keys into four buttons that float near the bottom corners of the phone or tablet. The keyboard uses predictive text to figure out which words you’re trying to type, even though you’re only pressing four buttons.
Yes, it’s a wacky concept. But after trying it briefly at the CTIA Wireless trade show this week, I think it could actually work.
Snapkeys expects 2i users to remember the keys in each group, so they don’t have to look at where their fingers land. That sounds crazy until you realize the same logic applies to physical keyboards. Typing on a laptop only becomes effortless once you’ve memorized where everything is. With 2i, users can hide the key groups once they’re familiar with the layout, and then press in the general area of the invisible buttons to enter each letter.
I can see how Snapkeys 2i could become effortless over time, but it does have some unique stumbling blocks: To enter a particular letter, you must swipe a thumb across the button in the direction of that letter, so typing proper nouns or other unrecognized words can take a while. You must also make swiping motions to enter numbers and special characters. In those cases, it’d be easier to have a traditional keyboard.
But if you do master the keyboard, you can apparently type at an impressive clip. In one of Snapkeys’ official videos, the typist beats the Guinness World Record for fastest text message, typing out the official phrase in 24.94 seconds. (A U.K. woman typed the same message using the Swype keyboard in just under 26 seconds in 2010.)
Snapkeys’ Alexandra Rabinovich told me that the company wants phone makers and wireless carriers to pre-install 2i on their phones, though I can’t imagine it becoming a primary keyboard on any device due to its steep learning curve. The company is also hoping to have a downloadable version ready for Android devices by the summer. In the meantime, Snapkeys offers a demo app for iPhone and Android that lets users try to beat the Guinness World Record using the 2i keyboard.