LAS VEGAS — Mull it over, and you may come to the same conclusion the folks at Snapkeys, a Jerusalem-based start-up company, have: It's strange that virtual keyboards on phones are the way they are. Our smartphones have diminutive screens to begin with, and when we go into an app to type, our keyboards pop up, taking about half the precious real estate of the display. It bars you from the advantage of a full spread on your phone and is frankly quite cumbersome. Now the Snapkeys team thinks they have a solution to change that, and they're showing off their new invisible keyboard here at CES 2012.
Here's how it works: Snapkeys divides the typing portion of your touch screen into four quadrant categories, each with their own specific rule based on a letter's shape. It then classifies all letters of the alphabet under one of these categories: Letters whose base stands on one point (like F, I, T, and V), letters whose base stands on two points (W, H, N, A), letters that have a curved or flat base (G, U, S, E) and letters incorporating a closed circle in their figure (R, O, P, B). After learning and memorizing these rules, you can make the keyboard invisible. Simply tap on one of these four quadrants to compose a sentence; the app uses predictive algorithms to figure out the word you're trying to write, and it appears onscreen.
In our experience, the app was pretty accurate when we tapped out our own words. It worked fairly fast, too, which prompted us to ask developers whether or not they'd done studies on how the Snapkeys system performed compared to traditional virtual keyboard input. Unfortunately, they hadn't carried out any conclusive research, but we hope to see tests—or do some of our own—if the app meets its targeted release in the next few months. Currently, developers are still conducting negotiations with wireless carriers to include it as an input method on devices.
But if all goes well, the launch for Snapkeys will be in March, landing on Android and Windows smartphones. (iOS versions are unlikely at this point, unless developers somehow convince Apple to let them install alternative keyboards on their devices.) Check out our hands-on below for a live demo of Snapkeys' interesting new input method.