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Tilt gesture keyboard could hold promise for typing in VR

Keyboard nerds like me could become a dying breed if the voice-controlled future accelerates at us quite as quickly as companies like Alexa-owning Amazon hope. But in the interim, with screens still loitering in the orbits of our fingertips, texting remains the done thing (well, not counting kids who prefer recording voice messages to send to each others’ messaging apps — I know, I know, path of least resistance and all that…).

Meanwhile, there are more types and growing numbers of computing devices in play than ever before, from wearables to VR headsets, so interface researchers are finding additional reasons to optimize keyboard-based usability kinks.

To wit: a group of researchers, led by postgraduate student Hui-Shyong Yeo at the University of St Andrews, has come up with a tilt-based typing technique designed — at first glance — to be an alternative for users of larger smartphones (phablets) or tablets; to enable one-handed typing, i.e. when your palm won’t easily stretch across the full span of glass. And many a cracked smartphone screen can surely be blamed on an unfortunate typing accident.

The researchers have called their tilt-based entry keyboard SWiM for short: aka ‘Shape Writing in Motion’. The core text entry technique is akin to gesture-based keyboards like Swype, where users use fingers to trace patterns over the keys to spell out words. (Indeed, they utilized Swype’s interface for this portion of the tech.) But the twist is SWiM users tilt the device with their dominant wrist to form the shades needed to form the words. So no finger-dragging necessary, just a little wrist dexterity.

“The dominant hand typically exhibits finer temporal and spatial resolutions,” they write in a research paper detailing the study, which also specifies that their technique only relies on pitch and roll for text input, as “the dexterity of yaw using one’s hand is very limited”.

“Our tilt-based technique allows one-handed text entry and also lends itself as a suitable text entry method for remote controllers, wearable devices, and for virtual reality text entry, where users cannot see the keyboard input device,” they add.

The researchers found that first time users who tested the tilt-based input system as part of the study were able to achieve a rate of 15 words per minute after “minimal practice”, and a rate of 32 wpm after around 90 minutes of practice.