Snapkeys' quest to assassinate QWERTY

A hands-on with a new "invisible" typing pad that hopes to wipe QWERTY from the face of the earth.

Memorize this input method and your keyboard could disappear forever. Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

LAS VEGAS--Israel's Snapkeys doesn't want to just be an alternative to the traditional QWERTY keyboard. It wants to kill it off for good.

The company's Ryan Ghassabian taps out sentences on his tablet with all the speed and precision of a phonetic hitman as he demos Snapkeys for me at a small booth in the far back side of the Las Vegas Convention Center here at CES.

Snapkeys is an invisible keyboard that uses 2i technology and predictive typing to eliminate the need to actually look where you're typing on touch-screen devices. For most of you, that sentence will be total nonsense, like it was to me when I first heard about Snapkeys, so here's how it actually works.

The idea is to take all the characters on a normal keyboard and reduce them to only four "buttons"--those that stand on one point (F, I, T, etc.); those that stand on two (M, N, X...); those that stand on a wide base (Z, U, L...); and characters with a closed circle (@, P, O...). Snapkeys introduces four new icons for each of these new typing areas, effectively reducing the full QWERTY board down to only this:

These cute, emoticon-esque figures are hoping to kill QWERTY. Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

Notice that there are two extra narrow spaces on the sides--the one on the right is primarily the new spacebar, and the left is backspace. Type the area that matches the shape of the letter you want and Snapkeys uses predictive typing to figure out exactly which character you're after. The company swears it gets it right 99 percent of the time.

Once you've got a handle on this much reduced interface, you can make the entire keyboard invisible. According to the Ghassabian, this is what Snapkeys is all about--reclaiming the screen space currently given over to a keyboard. Imagine typing a comment about a show you're watching on your iPad to a friend without have to squish or cover the video with a typepad.

"We believe that in three years' time we will be the standard for text input for all touch-screen devices," Ghassabian says.

But Snapkeys isn't interested in stopping at the touch screen. Ghassabian says they're looking at ways of embedding Snapkeys in a car's steering wheel, for example--too soon to say if that would worsen or improve our distracted driving epidemic, but a cool notion nonetheless.

Snapkeys isn't out just yet, and Ghassabian says it won't be available as an app. The company is currently negotiating with wireless carriers around the world to include it as an input method on some upcoming phones and devices.

 

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