ZoomBoard Lets You Type On A Smartwatch
April 30, 2013

ZoomBoard Lets You Type On A Smartwatch

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Many analysts and consumers alike are bracing themselves for what they believe to be the 'next big thing' in Tech: smart watches. Existing models, such as the COOKOO and Pebble, work as a companion device with your smartphone. Rumored models from Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung are largely expected to work the same way. A device that´s as small as a watch presents its own specific set of problems, the most glaring being the issue of interacting with the thing.

Rumors claim the Apple smart watch, for instance, will use Siri voice recognition to control the watch. Apple could very well integrate Siri in a rumored iWatch, but some college students from the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a special keyboard meant for watch-sized devices.

It´s called ZoomBoard, and just as the name implies, this soft QWERTY keyboard features one to two levels of zoom to allow watch wearers to tap out messages one letter at a time. Since it´s impossible to squeeze a full keyboard experience onto a watch, the team, fronted by PhD student Stephen Oney and PhD candidate Christopher Harrison developed a few workarounds in ZoomBoard.

To type a single letter, the user taps the keyboard in the area where that key lives. This zooms the keyboard to a level where that key can easily be tapped. Once the key is selected, another tap will zoom the keyboard back out until the user chooses another area of the screen to zoom into. A flick to the right enters a space in the sentence and a flick to the left works as the backspace key. To choose a symbol or number, swipe upwards on the screen; capitals can be tapped by pressing and holding a certain key for a moment. It doesn´t look like the easiest way to shoot a message to someone, but Oney says he believes it´s good enough to get you through the day.

“You aren´t going to write a novel, but it gets the job done,” said Oney in a statement. “This opens up new possibilities for devices such as smartwatches, which generally lack any means of entering text, as many aren´t powerful enough for voice recognition.”

In a video posted on his website, Harrison says they´ve put this tiny keyboard to the test and found users were able to tap away at about ten words per minute with “high accuracy.”

“That´s plenty fast enough to dial a phone number, or enter ℠where is pizza?´ or get ℠directions home.´”

Together with fellow HCII students Amy Ogan and Jason Wiese, Harrison and Oney will present the ZoomBoard and the accompanying paper on May 1st at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) in Paris, France. This paper has already been awarded an honorable mention for 'Best Paper' by the CHI.

While other teams of researchers have opted for different ways to solve this problem, said Harrison, his team chose instead to go with what´s familiar.

“A lot of people are banking on voice for text entry on very small devices, and no doubt voice will play an increasingly central role,” he noted. “But sometimes you need to enter something discretely and without a big fuss; for that, ZoomBoard is great.”