Windows 8 Touch Keyboard – How they did it

Most of you are already aware of the on-screen keyboard of Windows & have used in previous Windows versions including XP, Vista and Windows 7. Since, Windows 8 is optimized of tablets or the touch enabled devices, it gets the touch keyboard as well.

Though, touch keyboard also is not a new concept (Available in smart-phones, tablets & other touch enabled computing devices for last few years), but Microsoft want you to feel it like a completely new thing of modern touch enabled computing. That’s the reason Microsoft has developed a completely unique, comfortable and innovative keyboard for touchscreen Windows 8 devices. So, here I would love to explore the things considered by Microsoft while designing/developing the Windows 8 touch keyboard.

The three main goals set were:

  • Making people type with almost at the same speed they can type using a physical keyboard.
  • Making them avoid common typing mistakes and easily correct the errors.
  • Typing the text with comfort in terms of posture, feel, interaction with the device and social settings.

Though Windows 8 has a highly accurate handwriting recognition feature for several languages and voice recognition but it might not be possible for Microsoft to meet the above said three needs (Speed, accuracy & more comfortable typing) of people and expectations from touch screen devices without setting the goals.

Making it comfortable
So the journey begin with a study of “How people use the touch keyboard – The posture” which found thee postures. The posture most people use to type is “setting the tablet on their lap or a table and typing with both hands/multifinger”, then comes “holding the device in both hands and typing using thumbs & at last the posture least people use to type is “holding in one hand while typing with other hand (hunt & peck)”.

Now, Microsoft Introduced a new keyboard layout, the thumb keyboard. This layout was designed on the basis of typical reach of people’s thumb, a heat map was prepared with three comfort zones. The interesting thing here is that size of this thumb layout can be adjusted on the basis of different thumb sizes.

Making it more accurate

Next challenge was to make people sure that their fingers are placed at right position/pressing the right key and even if the keys on the keyboard are actually stricked or not while typing on the glass. To confirm the position, almost all the physical keyboard have a small bump on J and F key and confirm the striking because there is a movement & tap sound, but there is no feedback when you type of a touch keyboard and there is no indication what you just typed/pressed. So here Microsoft came with the changing the color when touched & producing a residual sound. These changes were also done after a detailed study which show that the sound and changing color is reassuring and confidence while typing on glass. Even, this study found that sound and color transition inspires people to type more.

Microsoft also used their own unique model called “Touch Model” to make the typing more accurate & automatically correct the errors based on your intention of typing a particular letter, typing pangrams and the lexical data.

Fulfilling need for speed:

The eye tracking study performed by Microsoft also found that people becomes more comfortable and fast at typing when they regularly use the touch keyboard, they start focusing more on the input field and less on the keyboard, they can just type efficiently on the basis of a appearance of letters/symbols.

The number keys row was also removed for the sake of a acquiring less screen space and on the study which found that:

  1. A number key row can be a cause of increased typing mistakes.
  2. People often type more that one number at once and this is performed even faster when we have a clustered numeric keys similar to a physical keyboard.
  3. People type numbers less frequently as compared to other letters and symbols.

Microsoft also changed the order of clustered numeric keys and set the 1,2,3 on the top unlike a typical physical keyboard. The reason was that the people have become more familiar with same layout in phones, ATM’s, remote controls and other devices.

Some other new things that got implemented in Windows 8 touch keyboard are:

  • When a particular key is pressed and holded, it reveals the related letters/symbols for quick selection
  • The text prediction UI appears near the caret because people either look at the text field or the keyboard, not in between.

In fact, the layout, placement and appearance the keyboard reflects the decision about the each key based on different experimental studies.

Now, my mind just got screwed, Microsoft had to perform this much of studies to develop a single touch keyboard, how they managed to design/develop the whole Windows 8, but after all, this is one of those amazing Windows 8 facts we don’t know.