Those of you using Windows Phone, will easily appreciate the ease with which one is able to type using its keyboard. Microsoft Research and the Windows Phone 7 product group, comprising of of Asela Gunawardana, Itai Almog, Tim Paek, and Eric Badger, worked together to apply the principles of machine learning—in which technology works on a person’s behalf—to improving finger input on Window Phone 7’s “soft,” or virtual, keyboard.
Fingers are big, the keys are tiny, and the sensors aren’t always reliable,” explains Almog, “so what you end up with is a bunch of ‘noisy’ XY coordinates.
The Microsoft Research and Windows Phone 7 teams tackled the problem by first conducting extensive user experiments on a Windows Phone 7 prototype. They collected data on how people touch soft keyboard keys, what it means when people employ different holding positions—using only their thumbs, for instance—and the strengths and weaknesses of competitors’ keypads.
“When you’re typing really fast with two thumbs, the touch patterns are sloppy,” Paek says, “so you have to make the target area even bigger.”
Most smartphones now take a stab at guessing the user’s intent. For Windows Phone 7, the trick was to make that guesswork better—without getting in the way of the user. A phone’s predictive software can be so powerful that it overrides what the user really wants.
“If you hit right smack in the middle of the ‘b’ key, I want the system to respect that,” Gunawardana says. “We came up with a model that allows the statistics to vary the key footprint, while still respecting the user’s intent.”
By modulating the certainty of its suggestions in that way, the software remains strongly predictive but doesn’t become so sure of itself that it thwarts the user.
Here are 7 tips which will help you use the Windows Phone keyboard in a better way:
- Double-tap Space at the end of a sentence to add a period and capitalize the start of the next sentence.
- Tap & hold various keys to reveal hidden menus. The period key is especially handy.
- Boost your speed: Tap the Shift or Numbers/Symbols key, slide your finger to the character you want, and then release. Saves you a tap.
- In the suggestion bar, tap “+” to teach the phone a new word.
- To undo auto-correction: tap the word, then tap the first candidate (the original word) in the suggestion bar.
- Multilingual? Go to Settings > Keyboard to select other keyboard languages.
- Type fast. You can trust the keyboard to correct you.
In upcoming releases, the keypad even will take into account the speed at which a person is attempting to type.