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App guesses words to expand, shrink touch-screen keys for smarter typing

Thickbuttons wants to become the "T9" of touchscreens, using predictive technology to expand and shrink touch-screen keys to make typing easier.

I accidentally stumbled upon a company called Thickbuttons at MobileFocus, one of those after-hours evening mini-conferences, as I was passing by its booth on my way to another. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a really cool demo featuring a touch-screen keyboard that looked pretty familiar - the one on Android smartphones.

The feature, explained co-founder Andrew Pavliv, is based on prediction technology that's used to recognize possible next letters when the user is typing, expanding those possible letters and shrinking those that are unlikely. As the word progresses and the technology narrows the possible variations, the number of expanded keys shrinks.

The company debuted at the DEMO show in Palm Desert this week, before heading up to Vegas to also showcase it at CTIA. The app, which is free, is currently available only for Android, with a Windows Mobile version in the works. The company is in talks with RIM for a Blackberry version. There are no plans for a Palm version.

And the company said they can't develop for the iPhone because the iPhone's touch-screen keyboard already has a similar feature where it slightly expands keys during typing. (I'd never noticed but I only have tried on an iPod Touch.) Because Apple doesn't allow third-party apps that conflict with native apps, the company will not have an iPhone verison.

As for the business model, Pavliv said the company wants to be the "T9" of touch-screen, referring to the texting technology that used prediction technology to fill in the letters for texters. It has no plans to charge end users for its apps, choosing instead to talk to platform developers and hardware makers about licensing agreements. The company has already had early discussions with LG and Samsung about a deal, he said.

I shot a video of the technology at the CTIA event but the YouTube clip from the company is much better. Check it out: