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Snapkeys calls for the death of the QWERTY keyboard

Snapkeys' "invisible" keyboard, with just four keys, makes virtual keyboards look old-school.

The Snapkeys alternative to a virtual keyboard
Snapkeys is a QWERTY iconoclast, exchanging old typing logic for new.
Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

NEW ORLEANS--You know all that typing on your phone's virtual keyboard? Snapkeys says that so long as you're using a QWERTY layout, you're doing it wrong.

The company believes that there's little logic to the traditional way a keyboard's arranged, and instead offers up an onscreen virtual keyboard that uses only four buttons.

The buttons are organized by letter types: one for letters that touch the bottom of a ruled line once (like T and I); one for letters with two touch points (like K and H); one for letters with straight lines at the bottom (like E and L); and one for letters with circular shapes (like O and R).

Reprogramming your brain to think of letters as shapes is step 1. Step 2 puts your trust in the word prediction engine, which autosuggests terms as you begin your new method of typing.

Now where does that "invisibility" part come in? Shrinking the text input to four points (six if you include a faint bubble for the spacebar and another for the back bar) frees up more screen real estate, which is great for everything you do onscreen.

Snapkeys predictive text
Typing with 4 keys instead of 26 supplies new ways to think about predictive text. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Now, as intriguing an idea as this is, the buttons look a little funny, and my gut reaction was to reject the silly concept. Yet Snapkeys lends credence to its product with the tidbit that schoolchildren learn it fluently in one week, versus the 10 weeks it takes to learn a virtual or physical QWERTY keyboard.

Enough people are behind Snapkeys that it'll launch globally in a few months as a preinstalled option with two European carriers and "one of the largest handset manufacturers in the world."

What do you say -- it's about time, or thanks but no thanks? In the meantime, catch all the latest news from CTIA 2012.