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A different kind of keyboard (ianthehenry.com)
418 points by ianthehenry 28 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 147 comments

I love how honest this is about the limitations and the whole design process. Truly a great example of a real hacker project

I have a Georgi keyboard (mentioned in the article) which I started getting to grips with then put aside during a way too busy period at work. This has made me want to dig it out and try again.

I’m also thinking that two of those faunchpads put together on the long edges could make an even better ‘back of phone’ keyboard (or back of mini tablet) for a handy portable note taking device

Sure, but if you have a few keys to press, why not go all the way and make it a Braille keyboard? It would teach sight-able people how to write braille.

> It would teach sight-able people how to write braille.

Is this an interesting goal? I absolutely understand why it would be extremely valuable for most people to know their local sign language for communication with those who can't hear, but I fail to see how wider learning of a very special writing system (one that anyway can't be currently read from electronic devices) would impact the sight-impaired community.

There are definitely electronic Braille reading devices. They're called refreshable braille displays, and are often also combined with a specialized keyboard.

Wider adoption could conceivably improve these interfaces through more users and commercial interest.


Awesome, I wasn't aware of this! Thank you for the link! I believed Text-to-Speech is the only option used for HCI by people who can't see a screen.

That doesn't read Braille. It reads digital data and writes Braille.

its a reading device in the sense that an amazon kindle is a reading device, a device with which to read

The daughter of a coworker of mine has an elementary-school friendship with a blind girl. When she wanted to write a letter to her, I embossed the text for her, because, you know, I can write braille. I was told the little girl was very thrilled to receive a piece of paper she could actually read. But I guess this sort of human interaction isn't worth the effort, right? :-( Sad to read your attitude.

You embossed a letter because you knew how to emboss. I could look up the braille alphabet for the letter faster than I could learn how to, and actually, emboss the letter itself. You don’t even need to look it up. Braille Neue is a great font that prints the roman letters with the braille locations you can then emboss. Since braille is a letter for letter transcription of English, again, what is the utility to the blind for widespread learning by the sighted? It isn’t sign language, which is a distinct language used by the hearing impaired to communicate. It is literally just a 3d font.

sorry, but braille is much more than "literally jhst a 3d font". Contractions define "shortcuts" for e.g. word endings or whole words. see e.g https://brailleworks-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/brailleworks... for some examples.

> But I guess this sort of human interaction isn't worth the effort, right?

Parent didn't say that. Do you really think adding that ending is making your comment more convincing?

Looking into a mirror can really hurt. Guess what, I dont care. I have been belittled, ignored, swept aside, manhandled, pushed across a street, you name it. I dont feel particularily bad if someone outside of my bubble is confronted with how their priviledged utterings make other people feel.

The problem of sending braille printed text to a blind person and the problem of being able to type braille personally are entirely separate. I can type on a normal keyboard and print out the document as braille. The fact that braille printers are rare is a very sad fact.

The discussion above was not about hand writing (embossing) braille. That is a separate consideration, and I have personally never sent a letter to a friend of any kind, so not being able to send a letter to a blind friend doesn't seem like such a problem to me personally. If I were in the habit of sending hand-written letters to friends and acquaintances, I do think it would be a nice effort to learn braille in case I ever need to send such a letter to a friend.

You're being very disingenuous to assume that we all make decisions like the one being talked about in a vacuum.

I have a gergoplex this is making me want to pull out again

I'm a Blackberry fanboy. My Key2 was far, far superior a device to the latest gen iPhone I own. I have tried for years to get used to glass, and while I'm ok with it, it's still a massive compromise.

My second favourite mobile-device keyboard was that of the Ericsson T28 [0] from about 20 years ago. At some point I accidentally discovered a feature I just found outlined at the bottom of page 28 of the T28 user manual [1], where the volume rocker switch on the left side would act as a text entry modifier key, so that pressing the number 2 button normally resulted in a B, holding the volume up and pressing 2 gave a C, and holding volume down and pressing 2 gave a D.

I remember getting so, so fast and so comfortable at texting with this method. By random chance, an acquaintance a few years ago in a co-working place had an old T28 that still worked and let me play with. Naturally the first thing I tried was the old input method - and it was like my muscle memory never left. I was so fast and so comfortable with it. She was blown away... after 20 years she still had no idea that that mode existed.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ericsson_T28

[1] https://www.lokety.com/ericsson_t28s_manual.pdf

pressing the number 2 button normally resulted in a B, holding the volume up and pressing 2 gave a C, and holding volume down and pressing 2 gave a D

The SonyEricsson M600 series had something similar. The keys were rockers. Press the left side of a key and it was an Q. Press the right side and it was a W.


Interesting to use, and I wrote a lot of text on it while on buses and trains. But the keys were necessarily very hard and so your fingers would hurt after a while.

I applaud any effort to rethink keyboards from first principles.

After years of shoulder, neck and back pain I discovered that the root cause was the standard keyboard design. It causes rounded shoulders. Perhaps my shoulders are just too wide. This pinched all sorts of muscles, tendons and nerves. Doctors and physical therapists just failed to identify the issue. Weight lifting didn't help all that much, even with a strong back I had to scrunch and round the shoulders to type.

I finally picked up a second keyboard, and used one for each hand. It was surprisingly easy to convert to. Just added some larger rubber nub things on home row.

It's been life changing. Years of pain was gone in days. No special design necessary.

Each keyboard is arranged at an outward angle, distanced so my shoulders are in a natural position.

I can't recommend this enough.

On Mac it required a system preference tweak (Karibiner app) so each keyboard can share shortcut keys.

Are you aware of split keyboards? I use a mistel barrocco (essentially two normal keyboard halves tied together with a USB cable) and j can’t recommend it enough

When you can buy 2 everyday keyboards for 30 euros in total it's difficult to justify the shocking prices of split/mechanical/ergonomic keyboards.

I could buy an ErgoDox but it feels too much like a status symbol rather than a working tool.

For me the desk space makes it worth it (but the clackity clack is definitely an added bonus)

Thanks, yep, tried a few but am too addicted to the chiclet style.

> am too addicted to the chiclet style

You sick bastard. Seriously, though, it's most cool that you came up with such a simple solution. Hat's off, and glad you got that pain under control.

I started using a keyboard heavily around 40 years ago and knew from carpal tunnel problems as a pianist that I'd have to be careful. My kids love to joke that my posture looks like it's from an ergonomics manual, but no carpal tunnel since 1982!

(I'm saying my approach is better than yours or would have helped, just empathizing because I would be super miserable if programming caused physical pain.)

I was experiencing the same – narrow hand position causing lots of back pain. Keeping my arms/shoulders in a natural position seems to have fixed it.

There's also tons of split keyboards available now.


All of those beautiful split keyboards, and not a single one with a proper layout. Shame. Looks like I'm sticking with my Surface Ergonomic, because it's the only one I've found that has super keys on both sides, and a context key on the right side. I just wish they'd make a mechanical version.

Yeah every split I've seen puts the arrow keys where the 4 modifier keys go on a typical keyboard. Annoys the heck out of me.

The UHK can be mapped to a proper layout easily (it has proper widths for modifier keys on the right, so you just need to move the Fn somewhere else and you can get a standard set), but it's not cheap.

The keys can be remapped, right? My keyboard even saves my configuration itself so it remains when swapped between computers.

A lot of those keyboarda uses QMK fw, you can do a lot of things with layouts with them.

iOS actually has a multi-touch based braille keyboard built-in. So you can have a rather similar behaviour, however, without extra hardware, with native iOS. In Settings > Accessiblity > VoiceOver, add "Braille keyboard" to the rotor options, and then use two fingers in a circular motion until you hear "Braille input". You can now hold the screen away from you in landscape mode, and use three fingers from each hand to type 6-dot braille.

By the way, besides the wacky keyboard blind people also have another, erhm, ‘perk’ in their use of phones: they, pretty obviously, keep the brightness at zero. Gonna last a long time on a charge.

I keep thinking occasionally that some things that I do with the phone could be done with a small one-handed wireless remote/controller and audio output—so I could trigger them while doing something else, e.g. walking outside. For example, Anki already supports either a specific remote or bluetooth remotes in general, and has TTS. Also, there are games using audio as output, which might work in a similar manner—may be interesting to try, if not very engrossing.

Yeah, "screen curtain" is a pretty essential feature for some of us. I also do that on my Linux laptop. Helps againnst sholder surfing and saves hours of battery time.

Regarding your remote-controller idea, check out the Rivo: https://rivo.me/en/index.html

> Anki already supports either a specific remote or bluetooth remotes in general, and has TTS.

Have you considered a gamepad designed for phones? I use a GameSir T1s for my Anki reviews while out walking.

Only downside is the screen is lopsided in the controller due to the volume buttons, but this could be fixed with a more expensive gamepad which wraps the sides.

I guess you mean holding the gamepad with both hands and staring at the screen, in the usual gaming manner. But, you see, as a keyboard worker I (partly) go for walks precisely to give the shoulders and the neck some workout and stretching—and using a regular gamepad is the opposite of that, as I already discovered in practice. Otherwise I could just use the phone as normal—which is also pretty bad for the shoulders, though one at a time.

So I was thinking of using something in this vein:



Might come in handy in more occasions than just walking. E.g. home chores when I still have one hand free—currently such time is occupied with more passive podcasts and audiobooks.

Ah! I understand. I can use my controller one-handed if necessary and get a much better angle than staring down at my phone, but I typically don't have the neck/back problems that others do.

A lot of med students use the 8bitdo Zero 2[0] with Anki one-handed, but I believe a standard bluetooth clicker would be more ergonomic as it'll be designed for one-handed use.

For audio cards, you typically want a controller with 6 keys: 4 answer buttons, replay audio, and undo.

Native key remapping will be available in AnkiDroid 2.16. AnkiMobile (iOS) supports it, and there's various programs/addons for the desktop version.

There's a fair number of reddit threads with further opinions which should be helpful

[0] https://www.8bitdo.com/zero2/

Thanks! Didn't expect this much info, but then I looked into your profile, which explained things.

BTW, perhaps this could be of interest in regard to this topic: I previously was able to use Tasker to remap headphones' control buttons to keyboard keys, and thus trigger AnkiDroid's buttons. However, this turned out to be pretty awkward for me—but it's a generic mechanism for remapping, so may come in handy for someone who has other not-natively-supported inputs. (Though it will likely require additional paid addons for Tasker, namely AutoInput.)

Definitely useful information to relay, thanks!

I didn't have the time to get Bluetooth headphones working this release cycle, but it'd be great to do so if it doesn't require too many permissions.

Bluetooth headphones go through a different API than physical buttons/controllers/keyboards, and Google's changed the APIs a few times. At first glance it seemed like a minefield (either managing a media session, or managing Bluetooth devices, in both cases which we'd be competing for Bluetooth access with proper media players which have a legitimate want for the buttons).

Anyway, I digress. Thank you for the pointers, and I'll have another look when there's less maintenance work to carry out.

Thanks for the link, super interesting to watch. Over the years as a programmer I've picked up knowledge about web accessibility from a mechanical, standards/implementation focused point of view, but this video is helping me realize that my understanding has been lacking a level of depth and empathy for the real people using these tools.

Looking through some of her other videos I found this demonstration of camera-to-speech in the iPhone pretty awesome–I had no idea that this was a feature: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CAafjodkyE

Magic stuff indeed, I didn't see that vid before—gotta rectify this with her other videos.

Personally I only used recognition with photos a couple times, to identify some things. Now, that right there is a power user of the feature.

How does the phone even process the images that quickly? I was under the impression that generic models to recognize a wide variety of things require beefy processing and plenty of memory or disk. Or, are latencies on mobile networks that low in the US or wherever she is? And, do people really use mobile internet all day long—especially transferring dozens of photos?

P.S. While we're on the topic of magnifiers: MacOS has the feature where the onscreen magnifier can be shown temporarily with the keys ctrl-alt, and follows the mouse. I have rather moderately poor vision (so far), but I'm using this quite often to gawk at smaller things on the screen, instead of bending myself closer to the monitor or trying to zoom the webpages. This especially works wonders with hi-dpi screens, where zoomed-in areas just have the old-dpi resolution—so I really can see small details in images, as if having separate images of those parts. With landscape photos, the effect is great.

That's mesmerizing to watch – thanks for sharing!

Yep—I'm a bit of an interface junkie myself, and I get an unscratchable itch whenever I hear how Iphones have some magic haptics where I could grope the screen in search of the buttons and actually feel them, or something like that.

Especially when PS Vita has a rear touch pad, on which extra functions are mapped in some games—and I can't tell which areas have the mappings, resulting in me either pressing the areas accidentally with my grownup hands, or missing them when they're needed. Or when Apple adds the touchbar instead of keyboard buttons, with none of that magic.

Oh sweet, thanks for digging that up!

I found this mapping between Braille symbols and the alphabet[0], but how does the buttons in the Braille keyboard map to these symbols? Trying to understand as it could be cool to type without having to look at the screen.

Braille characters are formed by six dots/bumps in a 2×3 grid. On a Braille keyboard, each of the six main keys correspond to one dot, and for each character you press the keys for the dots you want simultaneously, then lift up and repeat. There's also a space key. My grandmother used to volunteer transcribing things into Braille, and she taught me how to use the machine as a kid.

- [0] https://www.pharmabraille.com/pharmaceutical-braille/the-bra...

Sadly it seems you can’t turn individual accessibility features on in iOS

I'm really keen on things like this.

I love (in theory at least) the concept of being able to work from literally anywhere, and the concept of some sort of smart display (glasses, lenses, etc) but having a physical keyboard to type out code is always a major barrier.

Something like this starts to edge towards that vision which is cool.

I wonder as well if there's a way to have some sort of bracelet (but probably something less comfortable) that can track the way your hands move, so you'd be able to just "type" normally with your hands (eventually with less actual movement and more intent I suppose) to make use of these wearable displays. No idea how feasible it is, but it feels like it is!

One day I'll be able to work whilst walking around in the forest... One day!

"One day I'll be able to work whilst walking around in the forest..."

To be frank, this sounds thoroughly dystopian to me

How about “one day I'll be able to walk around in the forest while working”?

Why not just walk around in the Forrest? I mean, why do you feel it's desirable to shoehorn doing work into any and all type of human activity? GP has a good point: that sounds terribly dystopian.

I've got ~40 hours a week during which I have to work, and right now I have to spend them stuck in a chair.

Outside of that time, particularly on weekdays, I'm generally pretty busy with house and child care. That means that my time for just walking in the forest generally has to be crammed into the weekends. Usually on no more than one day per, since, on the weekends, even if I've got nothing else keeping me busy, I've still got to convince a couple other people who would much rather just play in the yard to come with me before I can go. And then, even if we have done that, I still can't really daydream much, since I've got to pay attention to and manage them.

Not so much the work time, though. A lot of it is spent sitting and thinking and reading and taking notes. The only thing about those tasks that's tying me to a place is the awkwardness of doing them while ambulatory, and that's really just an equipment problem. With the right tooling, that could happen anywhere. I wouldn't even need to sit or stand still to do it. Which means that I could perhaps get much more time walking in the forest than is otherwise possible. I could perhaps even make it a daily thing rather than a once-a-week-if-I'm-lucky thing.

This is exactly how I feel about it, thanks for clarifying!

I'm in a very similar situation, life is busy. Working at a computer doesn't feel like it should constrain me to a boring office, I could be in nature enjoying the fresh air, thinking about a problem and test out a solution right there.

When my dog was around, he'd have had the time of his life if my office was truly mobile!

Yeah. Also, when I'm doing thinking work, I'm definitely more productive when I'm on my feet and in the fresh air.

There's wisdom to the idea of not mixing business and pleasure, and maintaining work/life boundaries. But I don't think that the principle is meant to imply that a joyless working environment is the secret to a happy life.

Some people have to work in order to not die.

Nothing is stopping you from walking around without work. But if one must work (and one must) - walking around in the forest is a nicer setting than sitting at a desk, at least for some subset of the work.

Zack freedman made a video [0] last year where he created a wearable glove that tracked hand movements to achieve something similar to what you describe. Seemed really cool, and I'm sure we will get something better than this in the not-too-distant future. [0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6raRftH9yxM

Zack is a good guy, I ran into him at a conference years ago, where I was wearing my own mobile setup with a HUD and a Twiddler and we hit it off b/c we were both trying to solve the same problems, however his design was way better!

I'm glad to see this iteration, as it looks like it is getting closer and closer to reality. He is definitely on the cutting edge of these things in terms of usability.

Definitely cool! I guess I'm just being impatient. I would definitely like to be an early adopter of this type of tech. I'm kinda sad the initial mainstream hype around wearables died down so quickly, but looks like I need to source out details specifically for more info. Thanks for sharing!

You should look up the Korean alphabet on 9 (?) keys. It's really cool that you can type anything in Korean using 6 or so keys.

It works because in Korean, characters are made up of base characters. So you can essentially build a character out of two other characters, and then a syllable out of three of those characters. Then words out of a match of syllables.

Edit: It's 10 keys sorry. Example:


Some people already can and do this. See e.g.:

- Steve Mann: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Mann_(inventor)

- https://chordite.com

Or you could be like Stephen Wolfram and walk around with a laptop harness https://writings.stephenwolfram.com/2019/02/seeking-the-prod...

I have to get out of New York City.

https://twiddler.tekgear.com - bluetooth chord keyboard that fits in one hand, look in their forums for a whole lot of different layouts to try, including ones designed for programmers.

It seems surprisingly hard to find a video of someone using that proficiently (I couldn’t find any videos on their website, and youtube was mostly just unboxing demos), though it sounds interesting to observe.

Sounds like something that'd be interesting to try out, but not with a $200 price tag.

I have a Tap2 keyboard. It's really fun. They have a prototype v3 that's just a bracelet instead of the knuckles.

How is the experience? Have you ised to writein an airplane? Whas happens when the novelty ears off?

Reminds me of http://octodon.mobi/ keyboard. They went through so many many design iterations, tried really hard to get it going, but failed to start production and haven't posted anything since 2017. Guess typing on a phone will remain a pain forever.

This reminds me of how we used to type on pre-smart phone era phones.

Eg https://phonesdata.com/files/models/Nokia-E51-807.jpg

The funny thing with those little handsets was, with a bit practice you could actually get very quick at typing. Quicker even than on QWERTY keyboards on touch screen phones (at least you had tactile buttons).

Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I also remember that typing on those keyboards was way more reliable. Even with or without T9. I probably typed a little slower than on a virtual keyboard but at a more predictable pace. On my iPhone, I totally rely on autocorrect and I lose a lot of time if it get a big word wrong.

Typing on those phones required some practice to get muscle memory but it was accessible to barely anyone that had to use it. Even people who use computer keyboard all their life but are still watching they keycaps succeeded to type SMSs with the phone in their pockets.

I’m sad that we are getting nothing that stands between the old closed feature phones and the mini computers we call smartphones.

Typically this was T9: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T9_(predictive_text)

I still miss being able to compose messages in my pocket...

Speed typers did not use T9. A friend of mine used to compete in texting.

This isn't surprising given that T9 is predictive and a typing contest would probably not coincide with your typical typing habits, though I am very skeptical that typing by pressing successive numbers on a number pad is faster than T9 for general texting purposes, at least after you've trained it. Perhaps I'm underestimating the speed of which these people could press buttons in succession, just it seems like depending on the word you're pressing significantly more buttons to type the same thing.

But was that because it was bad or because it was slow on those old microprocessors? T9 would fly on a modern smartphone chip

Neither, T9 was pretty reliable and fast. That was the best method for most people.

But if your goal was to be above the average speed, the probability, even low, of false prediction by the algorithm would make you lose « a lot » of time while with no T9 your error span is scoped to one character.

Plus, for the people who typed without seeing the screen, you couldn’t take the risk to accidentally send the wrong word that would totally change the meaning of your message while an error on one character could be understood by your recipient.

But for the average user who just wanted acceptable speed, reliability and used its phone while watching the screen, T9 was the best for them.

speed of the lookup was not a limiting factor and felt instantaneous. the problem was more short words for which there were too many suggestions and a bad or non existing ranking system and missing words in the dictionary. very similar to swipe keyboards but more precise and faster

I had no idea it was a named technology, though I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. Thanks for sharing that link.

I've always thought it was a bit odd that for touchscreen phones we just decided to grab the near exact keyboard layout we use with physical keyboards, and just stick them on a tiny touchscreen. Sure, everyone knows how to use it and its fine for early smartphones, but it seems like a really terrible place for a full keyboard to go; imagine using a keyboard the size of your phone keyboard (so about the third the size of your phone itself) for your desktop or laptop. It'd seem insane and impossible to use on a daily basis.

You see the same thing with games. Not so great game designers just copy whats on PC for mobile, and add load of virtual buttons all over the screen. Phones are no good for that, really you want to limit yourself to 3 buttons at any one time at the maximum.

If this could be learned fairly easily, it could be the solution I've been looking for. Of course it won't replace on screen keyboards for everyone, we're too far gone now, but at least there'll be something better availible

My favourite mobile-device keyboard was that of the Sony Ericsson M600i/P1i


Its a rocker-key design: hit the left side, Q, right side, W. The U-shaped key made it super easy to hit the right letter, I could type amazingly quickly on this janky phone from 2006.

Once the capacitive-touch revolution happened, the closest keyboard that really took advantage of the small-screens was the TouchPal T+ keyboard.

It was similar, in that one soft key was Q and W, but you pressed it and swiped left or right for each key, and up and left for capital versions. It also held special characters with a swipe down. This also worked really well, in my opinion, especially on the small screened devices we used to use.

This is all a long winded way of saying, I agree, I think straight QWERTY is still odd, even today!

Hmmm, I actually remember some of Android keyboard like that, it had two letters per key, so one tap - first letter, 2 taps - second letter. Allowed for bigger key size.

Worked a lot like a good old phone numpad, just faster. Crashed a lot.

Likely TouchPal: they supported Windows Mobile and Android back in the day :) It supported the "tap N times" feature too, as like a fancier QWERTY-ish T9

> I've always thought it was a bit odd that for touchscreen phones we just decided to grab the near exact keyboard layout we use with physical keyboards, and just stick them on a tiny touchscreen

This happens with technology all the time. When the printing press was invented the first books were designed to look like their handwritten counterparts. Similarly, when electronic maps happened they were just like paper maps with fixed scales ("zoom levels"), north up, top down etc. It takes a while for people to realise the potential of newer technology for some reason.

Keyboards are a funny one, though. People don't learn to type any more. In fact, people don't really learn to do anything with computers. Millions of people interact with computers every day but have never really learnt to use them effectively, and this goes for both hardware and software. If you want to be a lorry driver, you need a driver's licence. But people get employed all the time to work on computers and nobody ever asks "can you type?" or "can you produce typeset documents to basic quality standards?" Walk into any office in the world and you'll see hunt-and-peck typing and untrained, misuse of common software like MS Word.

The problem is interfaces like a keyboard and MS Word do allow you to do something without any training at all. There would be huge resistance to having a "better" keyboard that required users to learn how to use it. People have been conditioned to expect no training.

A big driver in the trend towards no training is that the powerful players in tech (ad companies) have an interest in getting as wide a userbase as possible. The manufacturer of a locomotive or MRI machine does not care about this and it's fine and expected to need training to operate those machines. I wouldn't expect keyboards, especially those on a phone, to move to anything that requires training any time soon.

I think the electronic maps were limited more by technology than vision.

Google Maps (any many map systems even today) used pre-rendered tiled images, which means you could only zoom at the levels which were rendered and rotating the grid was hard (especially on old hardware)

I was quite surprised when I went to China and looked at people texting with their phones, wondering how many keys they would need in their touchscreen keyboard, and finding out that most of them use... 9.

The classic pre-smartphone phone keyboard, where you write in pinyin and the corresponding Chinese characters get predicted.

The most common input method on Japanese smartphones is also a 12-key keyboard modeled after feature phones, since it has the lucky coincidence that it maps onto the Japanese phonetic system perfectly - あかさたなはまやらわ+modifiers. On feature phones you had to multi-tap to get from あ to い to う, but on a touchscreen they added "flicking" into different directions to jump directly to a character. Once you get used to it, you can get really fast at it!

Animated demonstration: https://media.giphy.com/media/gjOWCOlhd98wI4dYcd/giphy.gif

> odd that for touchscreen phones we just decided to grab the near exact keyboard layout we use with physical keyboards, and just stick them on a tiny touchscreen

An anecdote: Early in Steam's controller support, they used a really nice alternative keyboard, where you picked one of 8 directions with the analog stick, and pressed a face key for the specific letter. It was fast, convenient, and built for controllers.

It didn't last.

Steam shortly moved back to a standard QWERTY keyboard layout with the joysticks moving virtual fingers. If I had to speculate, I'd say that they received too much negative feedback, because people didn't immediately recognize it as a keyboard, and didn't want to learn something new.

Even if it's slower, virtual QWERTY keyboards are (almost) universally familiar, and there's nothing new to learn.

Phones (at least android ones, don't know about apple ones) allow you to change your keyboard and there are all kind of keyboards. I was using a "swipe" keyboard before, looks (and can work) similar to a normal keyboard but you could also swipe your finger over the keys you want to type without raising your finger and it was doing a pretty good job at predicting what you wanted to type. I wouldn't be surprised if there is a virtual version of the keyboard that OP is using

I think a qwerty keyboard makes sense as a default since that is what people used to and it is hard to teach people new things. But there are alternatives for people wants to try them

How do you know who you can trust? When all apps (including keyboards, I assume) get Internet access by default, I am very reluctant to try any third party keyboard at all.

Apple support custom soft keyboards now too :)

A version of the most popular input method for japanese, adapted to latin, seems suitable: the layout is your good ol' feature phone numpad, but instead of tapping 1 2x to input b and 3x to input c, swipe left on that key for b and up to input c instead, etc.

With Latin's smaller alphabet, you can even have the best of both predictive text and precise input: maybe have the plain tap on 1 be a wildcard (a|b|c) for the predictive engine to infer

> grab the near exact keyboard layout we use with physical keyboards, and just stick them on a tiny touchscreen

Add to that the sad story of the QWERTY layout: proven to be inefficient and yet still widespread.

I use https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/MessagEase on my phone and tablet. Pretty convenient.

Wanted to use https://software-lab.de/penti.html but have difficulty learning all the chords.

> Pretty coovenient.

the irony of the typo in your comment is not lost :)


I make a lot of typos on regular keyboard as well.

Oh man I remember ME from when I had my Palm V, it was such an improvement. I think these days swipe input on querty has got it beat, at least for words that are in the dictionary. A one-touch way to switch between the standard keyboard for swipe and ME for the rest would be killer.

Haven't heard of swipe (or swype) before, maybe I will try, thanks.

Trying swype now. On first impression I would not say it's more convenient than Message Ease. Maybe I need to get used ťo it, will keep it for some more time.

Android and iOS both have it built in these days. For Android you may have to install the Gboard keyboard.

This reminds me a lot of the "Mirrorwalk" layout for the Twiddler chording keyboard: https://forum.tekgear.com/t/mirrorwalk-config-the-walking-la...

Each letter is a two-button chord, but in practice, each letter is an arpeggio because the Twiddler only sends a key event when you release a button. The layout is designed so that when writing English, there is a very high probability that the second button you press for a letter will be the first button you press for the next letter, so you can keep that button held down, press the second button, then release the first button to send the next letter. Your first three fingers (it doesn't use the pinky row) will "walk" around the three rows of the Twiddler.

This is kind of making me want to pull out my Twiddler again, I really haven't used it since I gave up on trying to run Illustrator on a Surface tablet instead of a Mac laptop.

That's an awesome layout, I will have to try it. I actually have two twiddlers - the dream was to split the layout between the two, so that all letters would have easy 2-button chords and to achieve a higher wpm. It works fairly well but I never practiced enough to really make it productive... might have to try that mirrorwalk layout though

For anyone looking, you can already use a chorded keyboard on your iPhone. It has Braille input available through accessibility settings


I remember seeing a demo of that (Braille keyboard on a phone) was crazy. What's also neat is the StuffMadeHere guy on YT added vision to that via Lidar in an iPad... the vibrations(?)/raising pins fed into a similar brail keyboard position.

I'd love to see a progression of typing speed over time. That's the real test.

I believe this idea can have potential for breaking the world record because there is no finger-to-key travel. But maybe it is diminished by the having to press a key multiple times over to get to the target just like in old cellphones [0].

Alternatively maybe one could brute force the problem of optimal keyboard layout/etc using simulations. Like that robot (human) hand that solves rubik's cubes by learning through simulation (apparently, from OpenAI [1]).

[0] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/73/Telephon...

[1] https://openai.com/blog/solving-rubiks-cube/

Way back when paying a stack of bills at the postoffice the clerk was adding numbers at a breathtaking speed on a mechanical calculator. I've often had the thought, why not write by typing ASCII codes on a numeric keypad?

[2] https://i.imgur.com/XcCbOsB.png quick infographic of the bottleneck

The page seems to assume that semicolon's keyCode is 59 so the modifier key in the demo only works with Firefox according to this table on MDN[0]. The keyCode for semicolon varies not only by keyboard layout but also by browser. Mine is 186.

[0]: https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/API/KeyboardEve...

Hey, thanks! TIL. Indeed, I only tested Firefox.

If you want to see an example of this taken to the extreme then check out Olafur Arnalds semi accompanying piano. It plays along with him using a lot of music theory to create generational music in real time on the same piano:


I tried to create something similar using web audio and a midi piano a while ago but the reason this works is you are applying digital processing to analogue output, along with Ólafur being one of the most talented composers alive at the moment.

There's this really interesting (touchscreen) keyboard for android called 8vim in which you write by drawing circular shapes. I can attain a decent speed after using it for 30 minutes but haven't really kept it on for long: https://f-droid.org/en/packages/inc.flide.vi8/

It's actually a clone of another keyboard, 8pen, which was abandoned. Here's a video of how it works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99vsUF4NuLk

I swear FaunchPad has seen 3 Or 4 different input methods like this be developed, I'm not sure what it is about the hardware but I'm absolutely in love with what you all do with it.

Nice write-up OP! Excited to see where you go with Peggi :)

Here is chorded example https://artsey.io/ (in case you have not seen one). People claim that you can reach 50 wpm with chords. I may play with that in the future but I do not even try using chords on my 34 keys keyboard. I have tried but that does't work for me.

If you want to make your own arpeggios to use with a normal keyboard (I do), I recommend kmonad: https://github.com/kmonad/kmonad

I really like this. I hate moving my fingers off of home row, and have a bunch of "layers" to put more keys on home row (extra thumb keys on the opposite hand define what; for example, I have ({}) on jkl;). I hadn't had the idea to "arpeggio", or to optimize normal letters, but now that seems really appealing to me. (I tried the demo and I love it.)

What's nice about having the full keyboard is that you can keep normal keybindings and just not use them when you're feeling lazy. I'll have to play with this more, it's a really good idea.

Cool article!

If you haven't come across Doug Engelbart yet, I highly recommend it. He invented the mouse (yes, that mouse), and was a staunch believer in chorded keyboards.

I'll admit, though, I don't really get it.

This is terrific. As a VIM user, not Emacs, I love the idea of a chording keyboard but just cannot get the hang if it. The arpeggio idea is perfect.

I just bought the hardware recommended in the fine article, let's see how that build goes!

Just a sidenote, use of chording keyboard in computing is as old as the mouse: allen-riley.com/internetstenography/chorded_keyboard_engelbart.jpg

Calculus teaches us the nature of optima. Sometimes they're at one extreme. Sometimes the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle.

This is one extreme. The sweet spot is in the middle, using tap/hold keys on a more conventional keyboard as supported by QMK firmware. It's brilliant to keep your fingers near home row. It's dogmatic to not have the other keys even be there, or to force yourself to use one hand if you have two.

A finger of one hand holds a key to select a mode, a finger on the other hand taps a key using that mode. This mode selection layout should be mirror images for the two hands. The Matias one-handed keyboard established beyond a doubt that our brains are wired to support this.

I use custom modes for punctuation, exotic "control-xylophone" editor commands, and controlling my computer. And yes, a cat walking across my keyboard will rearrange the orbits of the planets. However, the decades I spent thrashing would have been all worth it just to realize I shouldn't have to reach so far from home row for shift and modifier keys.

To add to this, KMonad can give you these “QMK”-style tap/hold keys on your laptop keyboard too:


For example, you can put shift keys under your pinky fingers:

  (defsrc a ;)
  (deflayer main (tap-hold-next-release 300 a sft)
                 (tap-hold-next-release 300 ; sft))
It’s implemented as a virtual hardware device so compared to other methods of remapping keys it’s fairly well supported across applications.

I mean, this isn’t intended as a serious input method to compete with your full size sit down keyboard. It’s for on-the-go.

I remember that a couple years ago Motorola was pushing its Moto Mods - hardware extensions you could clip at the back on your phone. I always thought that a Mod for alternate input (like this, or chorded/braille) would be very neat. Unfortunately looks like it never picked up.

Braille input exists on apple phones:


and I think Android supports something similar.

Of course, but you generally need to hold the phone with the screen facing down (as you are supposedly hard of seeing, e.g. https://youtu.be/wueLXCbm_KY?t=45). Here you could have a touchscreen or tactile buttons seamlessly integrated on the back of the device.

Owning a moto Z phone, I was looking forward for this. Unfortunately, they never came with a real product.

I love typing on a hardware keyboard, I once owned an HTC Desire Z phone, which had a hardware keyboard and it was pretty great. Too bad nothing viable with a keyboard appeared since that time.

A replacement for mouse/keyboard has been on my wishlist for a long long time. I'd happily accept a steep learning curve to reduce it to something that could be controlled with a couple of fingers.

This guys on the right path I think, and big props for taking it as far as he has done.


No more along the lines of Star Trek 2.0

I got a Ginni [0] like… 2 years ago, and set it up as a chorded keyboard. I've had diagramming the layout (based on Colemak, and trying to follow some kind of "real layout logic") as a pending task for these two years, I may have even lost the source code files but have a pencil-and-paper diagram hanging on my corkboard. It's a fun gimmick, and surprisingly easier to use (for non-coding) than expected.

    [0]: https://www.gboards.ca/product/ginni

Holy Baader-Meinhof Batman! Just yesterday I had the idea for a phonecase that had a few buttons on the back-- nothing so specific as a chordic keyboard, more for things like a camera shutter button and some other macros. I even started roughing out a schematic. The FaunchPad looks sort of ill suited for the task because its wired but there are some good BLE SoCs out there now that can sip power.

My favorite phone input method by far is MessagEase, with which you don't need autocorrect. I've gotten pretty fast with it too.

I felt like autocorrect on regular mobile keyboards on both Android and iOS was actually slowing me down. I kept having to correct the corrections, so I turned autocorrect off a couple years ago. It ended up being way better, now I can type faster (~80 wpm) and can write exactly what I want.

This is fascinating! It definitely needs more iterations, but once the learning curve is achieved, something that uses 8 fingers. vs. 2 thumbs is going to be far more productive.

Good post, but even better design thinking and execution. Thanks for sharing, and good luck on next steps!

This is a very interesting idea, but the hardware could be improved to better fit a phone and use battery+blutooth. If someone were to offer this [say, on Tindie] I would totally buy it.

(Unfortunately the ;+A didn't work on Safari for me on an M1 MacBook Air).

I used to be anti touch screen for typing, until I learned how to use swipe typing. I think I type much faster on a touch keyboard with swipe...

I wonder if there are benchmark for swipe versus normal keyboard...

I used to ~~take~~ really liked swipe based typing, but it seems to me it has gotten much worse ~~I've~~ over the years. My favorite was ~~in~~ on Windows Phone.

That's quite interesting. But if I were to learn chording, I'd rather invest on a stenograph keyboard and learn plover. There's a bigger community and more resources to rely on.

G Heavy Industries - the maker of the keyboard used in the article - also makes a keyboard specifically for plover if you are interested. (not involved in the company, just a happy customer)


This is explicitly not a chorded keyboard.

I used a microwriter in around '85. It was kind-of cool. Took more time to invest in than I was willing to give for a non-standard input device, but it definitely worked.

I'm not sure I understand - it took me 28 keystrokes to type 13 characters. The value must come from somewhere, where is it?

Saw something like this in 2011 on Yandex demo day in Yekaterinburg. Didn't fly then. Can't find the link, unfortunately.

Oh, it was called Octodon, thanks to people posting it in the comments.

With its touch back panel, this is the virtual keyboard the PS Vita has always been waiting for.

it reminds me the FrogPad keyboard

Oh, this is neat. Using Spacemacs for a while has inadvertantly pre-sold me on the concept of arpeggiated input.

The use of neologisms such as "because math" in the middle of this piece do have the effect of dumbing-down and trivialising this guy's amazing work.

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