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KeyStick: Thumbs up to Text Entry Print E-mail
Written by Richard Bloor   
Thursday, 09 December 2004
One frustrating aspect of using a smartphone can be text entry. While several solutions have looked for smarter ways to use the ITU keypad KeyStick from Australian developer n-e-ware takes a radically different approach, abandoning the keypad altogether.

While the "txt" generation may have mastered the standard phone keypad and are quite able to rattle off a seeming blizzard of text for many using the ITU keyboard is a slow and frustrating way to enter text, even with enhancements like T9. If you thought however that there was no real alternative, short of carrying around an add on keyboard, then KeyStick from n-e-ware should make you think again.

The name really gives away KeyStick's approach; it focus all text entry round a Series 60 phones joystick or jogpad. When activated, which is done from the pencil key (or optionally by a long press on the jogpad select) KeyStick displays an oval on the screen providing the user with 5 choices of letters, letter combinations, numbers, symbols or application options. One option corresponds to each of the four direction and select available from the jogpad.

A simple illustration should make this clear. In the following text message the next word to be entered is "house." KeyStick has just completed entering "the " and is now on its home menu.

As "h" is not on the home menu "select" clicks through to the next four letters.

The letter "h" is in the "down" position on this second menu so it is selected by moving down with the jogpad.

Having selected "h" the next menu shows the letter "o" in the "down" position as well.

Now on the next menu the letter "u" in the "right" position.

Next KeyStick gives a letter combination option "se" in the up position.

And finally a space is selected from the "up" position to complete "house" and add a space before continuing to the next word.

This simple illustration shows how straightforward KeyStick is to use, using it is merely a case of navigating a series of "menus" with the jogpad selecting the letters or letter combinations shown. This means that, compared to other text entry systems, the learning curve for KeyStick is almost non-existent.

The example also shows KeyStick's word completion feature. Unlike other solutions, which provide whole word completion, KeyStick present the next most-likely character or characters in a branch of the word, a patented technology n-e-ware calls Partial Word Completion. If "Illustrations" was being entered and "Ill" had already been entered the following tree of options is provided by KeyStick:

While KeyStick has a comprehensive dictionary of approximately 14,000 words and when KeyStick is unable to find any further letter options from the dictionary it presents a set of basic alphabet menus so new words can be entered.

When a new word is entered it is added to KeyStick's user dictionary. In fact KeyStick has two learning features. The first is this user dictionary for new words. The second learning feature is that KeyStick uses the personal and company names from the Contacts database as part of the dictionary vocabulary, which is remarkably useful in everyday emails, SMS and MMS.

Returning to the menus, above all the text entry menus is a root menu, which is accessed by selecting "back".

This menu provides access to a delete function, space and new line (short right select for a space, long right select for new line) and then further menus for numbers and symbols.

In addition entering text in any field or application KeyStick can also be used when entering phone numbers when just the numeric menus are displayed.

KeyStick also provides several options and additional controls which are accessed using joystick menus, after "Options" has been selected with the left softkey.

The four sets of options are:

  • Dictionary, where individual words can be removed from the user dictionary or the user dictionary cleared entirely. If more than one language dictionary is loaded then the active dictionary is also changed from this menu. (Currently KeyStick ships with English, French, German, Italian and Dutch dictionaries.)
  • Combi.. or Combine Words is a simple option to join two words by removing the space between them. This feature was added mainly for the German market but when you know its there it is surprising how often it comes in handy for instance turning "hair" and "cut" into "haircut".
  • The Edit options gives access to features for text selection, cut, copy and paste as well as a move option (which is more convenient than shutting down KeyStick) to move the cursor position in any text.
  • Finally Settings provides three control or display options being:
    • Joy Stick activation, this option determines whether KeyStick is activated by a long keypress on the joysticks central "select," in addition to normal activation using the "pencil" or ABC button. Using the long "select" press to activate KeyStick is handy, but can interfere with other applications which use long "select" presses to activate other features, hence why it can be useful to deactivate it.
    • Zoom, which displays larger text in the KeyStick menus.
    • Single Tap Help. This option adds a help bar to the standard keyboard data entry, as shown below.

There are two key criteria against which to judge text entry systems, usability and text entry speed. In terms of usability KeyStick scores very highly, it allows the user to concentrate visually on the phones screen, unlike keypad based systems where many users have to move their focus between the keypad and screen to guide their text entry. The predictive text component of the system also works well and the menu tree is much faster than selecting from a list of possibilities. In terms of text entry speed KeyStick is not going to beat out thumboards or add-on keyboard however it can certainly match, if not better, T9. In our admittedly limited tests we were getting upwards of 20 words per minute using KeyStick.

If KeyStick has one drawback it is that it works poorly as a "touch typing" system. The complex trees that would need to be learnt makes memorizing all but the most common words a significant task. On top of which words added to the user dictionary can change the menu tree making any learning redundant.

KeyStick is not the only application which uses the joystick as the primary text entry method, however it takes an approach which works well, is quick, easy to learn and comfortable to use. KeyStick can also be used in a more wide range of situations than other text entry systems, it is truly a single handed system and because the thumb stays on the joystick, except when selecting options or entering symbols and punctuation, it is easy to enter text accurately even when, for example, being jostled on a commuter bus or train.

While KeyStick is a great tool for text entry on a Series 60 phone it also offers device designers the option to consider eliminating the keyboard entirely from devices without a touch screen. More than that devices could be significantly reduces in size, KeyStick could provide effective text and number entry on a device such as a watch with minimal buttons and with text enter at approaching 20 words per minute.

We tested KeyStick on both a Sendo X and Nokia 6600.

KeyStick is available as a 15 day trial and can be purchased for $19.95 US from the SymbianOne Store, powered by Hangango. More information on KeyStick can be found at its Web site: www.keystick.com.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 16 November 2005 )


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