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Meet KALQ, the new touchscreen thumb-typing keyboard that could kill off QWERTY

Scottish researchers have developed a radical new keyboard layout designed to optimise writing output on touchscreen devices like mobiles and tablets.

In partnership with the Max Planck Institute for Informatics and the University of Montana, scientists from St Andrews University have developed the revised keyboard interface, dubbing it KALQ after the ordering of letters on one of the lines.

Designed to support "thumb-typing", the development team claims that its typing technology is 34 per cent faster than the QWERTY-style keyboard configuration traditionally found on mobile gadgets.

QWERTY boasts a maximum writing output of 20wpm, the team says, but the new KALQ keyboards can achieve a rate of up to 37wpm with the help of a predictive text algorithm.

The KALQ keyboard is split into two main letter clusters, one on either side of the screen, with space buttons embedded into both sets. Based on "computational optimisation" findings, vowels have been arranged using on the right-hand side of the device to maximise 'quick tapping' and enable users to key in short, commonly used words almost instantly.

The interface can be inverted for left-handed users, and the keyboard can even be scaled to take into account hand size.

According to the research team, "two-thumb typing is ergonomically very different" from typing on a QWERTY setup, which is based on the physical keyboards developed in conjunction with the typewriter revolution of the late-19th century.

"We believe KALQ provides a large enough performance improvement to incentivise users to switch and benefit from faster and more comfortable typing," commented Dr Kristensson, lecturer in human computer interaction in the School of Computer Science at the University of St Andrews.

The KALQ development team will officially unveil its collective work at the annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (unsurprisingly shortened to CHI), which will take place in Paris, France on 1 May.

After that, KALQ is being tipped to release as part of an Android app, with rollout to additional platforms and services expected thereafter.