The QWERTY keyboard has been around a long time, and is the default layout for everything from typewriters (what are typewriters?) to smartphones and computer keyboards. But, with the advent of smartphones and their relatively small screens, the keyboard has come under increased scrutiny and pressure to change.
This past January, at the CES (International Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, the Snapkeys company demonstrated its "imaginary" or "invisible" keyboard for phones and tablets. The layout, illustrated here, relies on grouping capital letters that stand on one point (I and V, for example), two points (M, N, X, etc.), those with a wide base (L, E, Z, U, S, G) and letters that form a complete circle (O, B, P, D, Q).
Now it gets a bit trickier: To type each letter, you type in the one of the four quadrants where the letter is grouped, tapping once. After you begin to form a word by tapping through until the letter you want comes up, the software's predictive algorithm is said to do an amazing job of knowing which word you're spelling and fills in for you. After you memorize the grid in its visible mode, you simply turn it off and tap on the screen.
Ryan Ghassabian, a Snapkeys spokesman, says that the company is already in negotiations with several carriers to make the Snapkeys system available on Android handsets.
Another wildly ambitious approach to maximizing screen real estate while preserving the ability to distinguish keys by touch is Tactus, which has developed a new touchscreen where buttons physically morph up out of what seems like flat glass, then disappear when not needed. This trick is managed by incorporating tiny channels within the substrate, through which a liquid is pumped into button-shaped chambers, providing volume on demand.
Judging from the video of Snapkey's imaginary keyboard, it looks as though it may have practical and technological advantages to the Tactus system, although it involves learning a new system of input versus the physically actuated QWERTY layout.
Will we see one of these breakthrough technologies on a smart phone of our own in the foreseeable future? We wouldn't bet against it.