Fluid keys make iPad touch typing breezy

IT researchers at the University of Technology, Sydney have developed a keyboard that lets users type faster on touchscreen devices like the iPad.

IT researchers at the University of Technology, Sydney have developed a keyboard that lets users type faster on touchscreen devices like the iPad.

The keyboard

Christian Sax and the LiquidKeyboard (Credit: Anna Zhu)

Primary inventor Christian Sax and co-inventor Hannes Lau recently developed a prototype of the keyboard for an iPad. The software is essentially a virtual keyboard that appears underneath a user's fingertips, corresponding to hand size and finger positions. The system works by sensing the position of the user's fingers and creating a fluid, QWERTY keyboard underneath. The keyboard also responds to position and pressure.

"We tried to adapt the everyday way of touch typing with a physical keyboard and move it over to the touchscreen [...] that's where it started off," Sax told ZDNet Australia.

Ideally, LiquidKeyboard was intended to operate on a pressure-sensitive surface but current touchscreen technology lacks this functionality. To compensate, the team is using a "pseudo-touch-sensitivity" system which uses the surface areas of fingertips to give indications of pressure. This "pressure" is then used to indicate a key-press on the keyboard. In addition to difficulties in finding the right hardware, the team is making do on a lean budget and a total head count of two.

When the project is completed, Sax is quite open to different avenues of commercialisation. He envisages that the keyboard could potentially be distributed as an app in the App store, or be bought up by a large technology company, like Apple, and integrated into a mobile device's operating system in the future.

With the emergence of laptops consisting of dual screens and touchscreens, Sax is optimistic about the possibilities of a market for the software.

"That would probably be the prime example of an application for the keyboard," he said.

Unlike the relative ease of developing for an open-source system, the team needed to create an Apple developer account to sign up for permits and a certificate to develop for the iPad.

"Developing an application for iPad is not as simple and as straightforward as the Google Android system, but the platform is a bit more powerful and has a better multi-touch capability," he said.

When asked if the team would be developing the software for Google Android in the future, he answered "absolutely". Sax also has plans to take LiquidKeyboard to as many touchscreen platforms as possible.

"[LiquidKeyboard is] not just for Apple, the reason why we're using Apple at the moment is because the hardware is cheap and has the best multi-touch sensitivity, and it is basically a platform to show that it can work on any kind of touchscreen."

Prior to its outing on the iPad, the first prototype was developed in HTML and JavaScript. In part, a virtual keyboard made by Microsoft inspired the design.

"They were interested in splitting a keyboard into two halves, one for each hand," said Sax. However, he felt that the Microsoft keyboard was not ergonomic enough, so he and Lau began to devise a new keyboard that would emulate a more dynamic, natural style of typing.

Currently the duo is refining the prototype.