When you think about it, it really doesn’t make any sense that we still use QWERTY keyboards on handheld devices. There are so many characters that it actually requires two or three (or more?) screens in order to display all of them, the keys themselves are small enough to promote eyestrain, and typos are prominent if you don’t have thin-ish fingers (otherwise known as “fat-finger syndrome”). The design is purely the result of a rushed supply to satisfy the demand of people who want to continue their typing habits on smaller devices. But that doesn’t change the fact that the design is awful.
Thankfully, researchers at Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing realized the flaws in the prevailing design of touchscreen keyboards on handheld devices and have developed a new system of entering text into a phone or tablet that is based on the Braille alphabet. The new software, called BrailleTouch, is geared towards eventually replacing the QWERTY keyboard model and, as you can probably infer from the name, wouldn’t even require a user to even look at the phone’s touchscreen.
In a statement issued by Georgia Tech, Postdoctoral Fellow Mario Romero, who led the research on the software, said, “Research has shown that chorded, or gesture-based, texting is a viable solution for eyes-free written communication in the future, making obsolete the need for users to look at their devices while inputting text on them.”
Equally innovative is the way that BrailleTouch can enable the visually impaired and poor-sighted to more easily enter text on their touchscreens. Caleb Southern, a graduate student who co-authored the research, said that further research with BrailleTouch will focus on how visually impaired users can successfully utilize the software. In the initial study, researchers found encouraging results with BrailleTouch users who had some visual impairment: compared with other programs designed for eyes-free texting, users of BrailleTouch could type at types “at least six times the number of words per minute.” Additionally, BrailleTouch users were typed at 32 WPM with 92% accuracy.
Check out Romero’s demonstration of BrailleTouch in the video below, and pay especially to his comments at the end.
Did you hear that, class? “Cognitive centers in your brain will be overloaded if you tried to use BrailleTouch while driving.” Meaning: you will wreck if you use this app while driving. And Romero knows more about your own brain than you will probably ever know, so don’t doubt him.
Perhaps the best part about BrailleTouch is that it is open-source, meaning it won’t cost users a dime. Currently, BrailleTouch has been developed for the iPhone but is not currently in the App Store, and the researchers are said to be working on a version for Android devices. Given the relative ease – I, for one, have no problem giving a couple hours out of one day to learn a new input method that will improve how I type texts for the rest of my life – anybody out there thinking they’ll give this app a try once it’s available to the public? Let us know what you think in the comments below.