The smart watch revolution is only just about beginning but is expected to pick up great speed later this year when Apple unveils iWatch. Even Microsoft is said to be preparing a smart watch, while LG and Samsung have also announced that they are working on their versions of a connected wrist watch.

With devices like Pebble already out in the market, research on how to best use the limited real estate on a watch is in full swing. The MIT Technology Review has a report on the latest example.

A group of Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed a keyboard application to work on displays as small as the one on Pebble smart watch or even smaller.

Zoomboard being shown on the Sony Smart Watch (Image credit: Chris Harrison http://chrisharrison.net/index.php/Research/Zoomboard)

Zoomboard being shown on the Sony Smart Watch (Image credit: Chris Harrison)

Called Zoomboard, the penny-sized QWERTY keyboard for touchscreens looks positively minute on first glance. But a tap on any section of the keyboard magnifies it, thus making typing easier even on tiny screens. The group will be presenting Zoomboard and the experiments they ran to test its utility at the Computer Human Interaction conference in Paris next week. And even though there is no intention of commercialising Zoomboard just yet, the very compact source code is available online for further development.

Chris Harrison is one of the co-authors of the paper on Zoomboard and he explains that even though it may sound complicated, the technology behind Zoomboard is quite simple. It just zooms in to make tiny buttons big enough to press on tiny screens.

Pressing again after the keyboard has zoomed in, types a letter on the screen. Users can swipe to the right to insert a space, besides using the actual space bar, and to the left to delete words. Swiping upward reveals symbols and numbers. The keyboard is completely scalable and can be used on screens as small as a penny or even on tablets for those with accessibility issues. “We think it’s really valuable—even if it’s a rudimentary text input mechanism—to have something you can fall back on,” Harrison said.

While it sounds promising, the process of hitting the screen twice to press one letter sounds tedious. And researchers admit that using Zoomboard isn’t particularly fast. “The first time they used it, people were actually pretty good,” Harrison said.

In their tests, a keyboard measuring 16 x 6mm was used by participants and they were able to enter 9.3 words per minute. That’s slower in comparison to traditional smartphone keyboards, but the participants typed with same accuracy as if they were using a physical keyboard.

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