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efficient touch screen input?

  • Started by ghen
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  • From: Viken, Norway
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I've remapped again. In my previous attempt, the top/bottom row concept worked very well for WFP/XCV in particular, but QZ and GDB felt confusing as you had to translate up/down to in/out. I then realized that the diagonal drags around the center are as good (for me at least) as the diagonal drags to/from the center! This allowed me to make real rows that represent the Colemak properly:

   I7wRFESc
   MessagEase_Colemakoid-Nor-v2-2_DreymaR.png
   The standard MessagEase layout (top) and my new "Colemakoid" (v2-2) remappings of the drag characters.

The full QWFPG/ZXCVB and JLUY_/KMD__ rows feel very easy to remember and use! The D works well like this too. I quickly matched my speed with the previous layout using this, so I think it's fast and easy to use. Its main advantage is that I can use my knowledge of Colemak to remember the letter positions, to a point where I could type blindly only a few days after learning this layout.

A QWERTY user should get some benefit from it too, since several letters are kept in place. But you couldn't make a good QWERTYoid layout like this without tweaking as the most common letters need to be on taps. (My attempt at making a more QWERTYoid layout ended up with QWDFG/ZXCVB YULP_/JKM__ in comparison...)

The 'æøå' letters are locale special letters for Norway (replace as needed; you could put _†‡ there instead for instance). The left-hand column is also free. As I learnt more Compose sequences for MessagEase I didn't feel like crowding the layout with rarely needed stuff anymore.

The bottom rows are staggered with respect to each other (going by fingering, the L should've been directly above the M) but I don't think that matters much. On a physical keyboard the K is more or less directly below the L anyway. I feel it works well at least.

I chucked the whole Greek alphabet in there on the 123 layout, which probably isn't so interesting for most. I like it like that, and I write various Greek letters more often than I write the square root or pilcrow symbols (for which there are also compose sequences) anyway.

As before, the symbols like !(?) @# $% &* -+ '" are placed intuitively in relation to the number keys.

[edit 2013-02-13: Version 2-2 has a minor change. I went from a DKM__ to a KMD__ bottom row. This puts the more frequent D in the middle, where it used to be, and avoids the stressful back-and-forth LD/DL bigrams. I've tried out both versions for several weeks now and feel that the v2-2 one is generally more comfortable and potentially a little bit faster, at least for two-thumb use. It's kind of cute and mnemonically pleasing how U and D are together now, as in Up/Down...]

Last edited by DreymaR (13-Feb-2013 11:09:17)

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I agree with your arguments (around-center drags, preference for compose sequences) and I think your layout looks nice.  However it seems awkward for $ and % to take such prime positions?

Did you do any digram-analysis on this one, or is it purely based on Colemak resemblance?

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This is pure Colemak resemblance, and I feel I practically knew it already once I'd made it.

Yes, the $% and maybe '" positions do seem "too good" once you're used to thinking center in/out. But since the around-center drags work so well there are actually too many good positions on the pad! So in that context it makes sense to make the symbol mappings like $% consistent with our Colemak/QWERTY knowledge instead. That way the QWFPG/ZXCVB/JLUY_/DKM__ letter rows stand out well so they're easier to use for people who look at the screen while typing.

It's amazing to think of: With all tap/circle and drag/drag-return mappings on 9 keys minus the four corners and two shift positions, there are some 150 (18×9-12) possible mappings on the 3×3 ABC pad alone! And twice as many including the 123 pad. On a standard 102-key keyboard the character keys on the 4 main rows have 4 shift states each including AltGr mappings which gives us 192 (4×12×4) mapping positions but only half of those are in frequent use.

Last edited by DreymaR (04-Jan-2013 23:58:46)

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For completeness: Here's my QWERTYoid suggestion too!

   MessagEase_QWERTYoid-v1-0_DreymaR.png
   DreymaR's QWERTY-based MessagEase remappings, for ease of recognition and use

You'll notice it's not all that different from the "Colemakoid" mappings. If I were to start from scratch I might consider using this one for compliance, but I'm plenty confused by my own remappings already. ;)

It reminds me a bit of Lilleyt's Minimak project: Not the layout directly, but the concept of switching rows but not fingering on a few characters (in his case, to produce a layout better than QWERTY albeit not as good as Colemak).

I don't think these MessagEase mappings will be faster or more ergonomic than the standard ones in any way, but as long as they aren't worse they should be worth noticing - especially for new users who should be able to learn and remember the drag layout faster and easier.

I'd like to discuss this with the rest of the MessagEase community, but they don't have a forum I think - do they?

Last edited by DreymaR (08-Jan-2013 11:28:46)

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DreymaR said:

I'd like to discuss this with the rest of the MessagEase community, but they don't have a forum I think - do they?

No unfortunately not.  Officially there's the Yahoo group, which was once very active, but it's dead now.

I asked Saied about a community forum but he pointed me to the Facebook group.  There's also @MessagEase on twitter.  But neither of these really accommodates broader discussion like a forum does.

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So what is the latest on MessagEase? Still working with it? I got the app and tried it out for a week or more, but the letter placement felt pretty random to me. I didn't feel like any thought had gone into it beyond the few major letters. I've been trying out 8pen and like it a lot more, but it is pretty unforgiving when you make mistakes, and mistakes occur frequently.. I doubt it will be all that fast but speed isn't everything.

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Yep, still working with it and I don't think there are better alternatives for those who distrust AI. There are now a whole lot of people typing 60+ WPM with MessagEase and that's pretty impressive.

I think the 9 tap letters are actually very well placed to minimize travel distance (especially important with one-finger typing)! T E S need to be close to the Space because their letter-space bigrams happen all the time, TH HE ER AN NI are other very common bigrams (keeping in mind that they can go both ways so for instance ER represents both ER and RE) etc.; MessagEase's ANIHORTES layout puts it all together very nicely.

I've been thinking a lot about placing T in the middle because it figures prominently in a lot of bigrams and suffers a bit in the lower corner of ANIHORTES. The main reason for this is that T=H to the left seems suboptimal for two-finger typing. It would lead to much better connectivity to the other 8 letters and the 3 most common letters all in the middle column, but the big question is whether that'd quite make up for the longer travel between T and space! My best solution so far is ANI OTH RES, I think. Getting A to the bottom row would compensate for much of the loss of T there, but E needs to be close to both R and H while A=N=I is also a good idea so it's not easy to pull off.

| A | N | I |    | A | N | I |    | A | N | I |
| H | O | R |    | H | T | R |    | O | T | H |
| T | E | S |    | O | E | S |    | R | E | S |

Trying to get T in the middle: The T-O swap (middle) is the simplest move but loses O=R and O=S; ANIOTHRES (right) has many fast common bigrams

When it comes to the rest of the letters, I agree with you that they feel more haphazard and that's a bit of a pity. I don't think there's much speed to be gained from their placements (although some of them like D U etc should have decent places, most of the drag positions seem about on par with each other), so they should've been placed in a way that's easily learnt and remembered instead!

I do recommend using my 'Colemakoid' mappings of the secondary letters and symbols, as I find them a lot more intuitive to learn and remember. I type quite comfortably with these now, but ghen types a lot faster than me using the standard setup (probably not due to layout differences but to his awesomeness and better training - nobody knows for sure though).

Send me your email address in a forum mail if you want more info and off-forum details...

Last edited by DreymaR (22-Jan-2013 13:27:01)

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On that note: I have a few decent sources of bigram frequencies in English, but none of them explicitly include punctuation and space. To analyze this properly I'd need to know the relative importance of the letter-to-(space/,/./:/;) bigrams.

I was surprised to learn how many bigrams in a typical text are T S E A in the beginning or end of a word! The ANIHORTES really makes sense to me now, at least... ;)

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The ANIHORTES layout is supposed to minimize finger travel for English text.  The whitepaper describes how they calculated that (using Fitts' law), maybe you should try to reproduce those calculations as an objective measure for your alternative layouts?

For the secondary letters, I agree the standard layout is not very intuitive at first, but neither are Colemak or Qwerty. ;-)  But after a few weeks of practice you get to know it well enough.  As with touch typing, using the blind keyboard really helps.

Last edited by ghen (22-Jan-2013 15:46:16)
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DreymaR said:

I do recommend using my 'Colemakoid' mappings of the secondary letters and symbols, as I find them a lot more intuitive to learn and remember.

To be honest, I hated replacing the phones qwerty layout with colemak, and colemak-related memory aids are not really useful to me,.. because I have no idea how a colemak keyboard looks!! I would struggle to draw one on paper, despite my 70+wpm colemak typing. I learned colemak touch-typing from the start, on a typematrix with blank keycaps, so I have never looked down and have little visual idea of how the arrangement looks :)  Even the staggered key rows seem alien and bizarre these days.

Send me your email address in a forum mail if you want more info and off-forum details...

I appreciate the offer but I think all discussion is best on forums, as you never know who might search for it and find it useful in future. Plus, I've decidede to stick with 8pen for a few more weeks at least, and then decide if I want to try something else.

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Replacing the standard phone keyboard with a Colemak one shouldn't help, no. I never did that myself.

As you can see above there's also a QWERTYoid mapping which is quite similar to the Colemakoid one. And if you don't trust my claims as to how easy it is to use, then I'll just suggest you try it out yourself (if you're interested enough). Having worked with and thought so much about Colemak myself, I have both a strong visual and a motoric impression of the layout, but I do feel that the motoric impression benefits as well.

My "offer" wasn't one of discussion but of some implementation help that really doesn't belong here. But we'll just wait and see then.

How fast is 8pen? I'm now at 33 WPM with MessagEase, and Geert/ghen types a staggering 61 WPM with it!

Have you read this review? This guy has tried both and preferred ME for its versatility, ease and speed it seems. Interestingly, most of his gripes with ME have now been fixed. All in all, the searches I made when hunting for a touchscreen input method convinced me that ME was the most promising alternative currently available.

Last edited by DreymaR (23-Jan-2013 13:03:48)

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DreymaR,

I wrote a small Perl script to calculate an (oversimplified) metric on MessagEase layouts.  It takes a 9-letter layout as config, and a body of text as standard input, and does the following:

* extract digraphs consisting of main letters and/or space (ie. ignore secondary letters completely)
* calculate the distance travelled for each digraph using a simple Eucledian metric: A-A = 0, A-N = 1, A-I = 2, A-O = sqrt(2), A-R = sqrt(5), etc
* the distance travelled to/from space is always strictly vertical (so either 1, 2 or 3)

I ran it over the complete text of Alice in Wonderland with a few layouts:

Results: (lower is better)
ANIHORTES : 121703
ANIHERTOS : 121924 (0.2% more)
ANIHTROES : 125337 (3.0% more)
ARSTHENIO : 132238 (8.7% more)

So Saied did a good job after all? ;-)

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Since I recently changed my HW keyboard phone for a touch screen only, I took a look at MessagEase and compared the default layout to DreymaR's "Colemak" version. I started with DreymaR's, since I thought it'd be more familiar and easy to learn but after memorising the layout before the games, and one-two minutes in, I found that if I want to be efficient, I shouldn't try to make a link between Colemak's position of the letter and where should I be looking for it on the 3x3 keypad – it was just too slow. After maybe half an hour I figured all my speed comes from memorizing the motion for each letter and I felt no advantage whatsoever from knowing Colemak. On the other side – it was only awkward because I couldn't follow the learning method of the program (tap → centre drags → outer drags...).

So I tried the default layout and it felt quite nice. I also found an interesting logic of the arrangement which helped me memorise almost instantly the centre drags:
|q|u|p| → Q and P look the same, just mirrored
|c|o|b|
|g|d|j| → G and J sound the same and they're on the corners
    ↓
U and D remind me of Up and Down

Don't know how much of this was intentional but it does help. Deffinitely the best typing option for touch screen. And I love the nifty features – cut/copy/paste; select all; backspace/delete (+whole word); moving the cursor one step or a whole word – I'm constantly using all of these and it's awesome to have them so easy to reach.

My only complain is that some positions are not configurable and they seem to differ on the different layouts (I use English and Russian). It could be device-dependent, though, and they're all either the ones at the far top or far bottom.

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Pafkata, does the mixing of English and Russian layouts work well for you?  Or would you benefit from a Rulemak-like translit equivalency between both?  What do you use on a physical keyboard for both?

Just wondering, I type Russian very occasionally (and probably never on my phone, it's more curiousity), so learning a complete new layout will not be worth it for me.

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On the computer I use Colemak for English and a custom layout for Bulgarian. On my old phone I used Qwerty since the benefits of Colemak don't apply when you're using only thumbs, and I have the Qwerty labels on the keys anyway.

It's been too little time with MessagEase and I've only trained English so far, so I can't tell you how well it'll go. I would try a phonetic layout but I can't change the base characters. I can say that I'm not looking forward to learning two layouts for my phone but that's the plan for now. What do you mean by Rulemak-like translit? Coud you explain a little bit more?

Last edited by pafkata90 (25-Jan-2013 12:14:46)
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Rulemak is my (sort of) transliterated Cyrillic/Russian Colemak variant.  It makes my occasional Russian typing easy and intuitive; I didn't have to learn a whole new layout, that I'd never fully master anyway due to the infrequent use.

rulemak.png

It's probably not optimal for native Russians or Bulgarians – although the most often used letters somewhat match in both languages (transliterated), and again the lesser used ones don't really matter for performance, so it shouldn't be that bad even...  And way better than transliterated Qwerty for sure! :-)

Are you using something similar for Bulgarian, or is it completely different like the official/native Bulgarian layout?

I'll probably never be typing much if any Cyrillic on my phone, but if I ever do, I would again prefer a similar-to-English layout over of the optimal-but-completely-different Russian layout included with MessagEase....

But if you're natively Russian/Bulgarian/Ukrainian, a fully optimized layout makes more sense of course.

Last edited by ghen (09-Nov-2018 22:48:26)
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Oh yes, I see. I did use almost the same when I started with Colemak, but after I got used to Colemak, I wanted something optimised for Bulgarian as well. The official layout is optimised but follows bad rules so I designed my own, which I've been happily using for quite a while now.

But if you use it only occasionally, it doesn't make sense to learn a new layout, of course.

Given that I don't type that much on my phone, I'd have really loved to 've been able to make a "phonetic“ layout for cyrillic, but... I guess I'll do it this way.

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Let's just design one, you never know if Exideas will accept it – or if they decide to make the main letters configurable as well. ;-)

I put some thought into this already, but didn't come to a conclusion; ANI*ORTES are trivial to map (and also very frequent in Russian/Bulgarian so that's good), but H is difficult: it is usually mapped to either Ч or Х, but both are so infrequent they don't deserve a prime position like H.  So either we stick to the simple transliteration rule and sacrifice one tap position to an uncommon letter, or we prefer some optimization in this case and make a better choice for the H position.  According to letter frequency tables, Л and В are candidates, but then we'll have to move the L or V positions in the layout as well, and we lose the simple transliteration...

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Hm... I'll give it some thought when I get home. Reading this got me a bit interested now :)

Last edited by pafkata90 (25-Jan-2013 14:11:49)
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UltraZelda64 said:

Is there any way to set MessagEase up as Android's keyboard for the password-unlock screen?  I currently have an unlock pattern set up because entering anything with the default on-screen keyboard is a chore, but this keyboard looks like it might just change that.  The pattern is nice because I can enter it without looking at the screen, but I'd consider switching to a password for slightly better security if I could use a halfway-decent keyboard to enter it with minimal trouble.

Don't know if you're still interested but in Jelly Bean 4.2 you can do it if you set your lock screen to "password". Then it lets you use the text-input keyboard for your pass. Not sure how it is on older versions but I think it's the same.

Last edited by pafkata90 (26-Jan-2013 01:48:49)
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ghen said:

Results: (lower is better)
ANIHORTES : 121703
ANIHERTOS : 121924 (0.2% more)
ANIHTROES : 125337 (3.0% more)
ARSTHENIO : 132238 (8.7% more)

So Saied did a good job after all? ;-)

Some more results, after running my program over all 362.880 permutations of the ANIHORTES layout: ANIHORTES isn't the best layout according to my metric, but it's in the top 0.7 percentile, so really good.  The winner is NOR IHE ATS (or its mirror image RON EHI STA), and has 4.8% less finger travel on my test corpus.  But the difference could just as well be attributed to the error margin of my oversimplistic metric?

The worst layout has "only" 29.2% more travel, which is still ok (compare that to Qwerty having 120% more finger travel than Colemak).  So the main optimization is in putting the most frequent letters anywhere on tap positions, and you'll end up with something decent.

So DreymaR, let's just stick with ANIHORTES. ;-)

Things got more interesting once I considered moving the space around as well, and thus put a letter on the space bar.  With this additional degree of freedom, and after 6.5 hours of number crunching (10! or over 3.6 million permutations), 20% of layouts score better than ANIHORTES.  The winner "HER T_S IAO [N]" has 15.4% less finger travel.  All of the top-700 layouts put the space either in the central O position, or the bottom row E position.  To my surprise, the layouts with space shuffled around don't get worse than the standard ones.  The worst positions are at the bottom (spacebar) and the top corner A and I positions.

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Yes, let's stick with ANI HOR TES - I agree. Your work is very interesting though. I think you should've used Fitt's algorithm which doesn't use simple distance but tries to model actual pressing time and has been confirmed to work with many applications.

I don't think it'd be quite optimal when using dual-finger input but I'm certainly not sure what to use instead! Besides, the layout should be optimal for one-finger input primarily and only secondarily for more advanced techniques in my opinion. :)

I had thought about the Space-in-the-middle option here the other day! The Space is an extremely common character and occurs in enough bigrams to make it the single most important placement. In Fitt's algorithm, having a larger Space bar may in part make up for the difference in distance since larger objects are easier to hit correctly. But I'd still think that a Space-in-the-middle would be great. Here's a thought:

| A | N | I | D | ← |
| H | T | R | O | * |
| E | space | S |ent|

Never mind the letter placements here, it's only to show the general layout. An algorithm should find the optimal design for such a layout.

Moving the Space up into the letter block lets it get closer to the action. With the slightly smaller Space bar I even made place for the D so you don't have to choose between H and D anymore! I also thought about a vertical 2×1 space but I'm not sure how to work that with enough letter bigram possibilites around it.

The resulting layout shown here is 5×3 instead of 4×4, with the benefits and drawbacks that entails (to me it seems more appropriate considering that I have a lot of unused space to the right and left of the layout on my phone, but that phone has a large screen - on pads it would be nice too). Of course the backspace column could've been made a bottom row instead, bringing back the 4×4 form factor (and another button for whatever purpose - a joystick for navigation instead of today's Help button that I feel belongs in the device's menus instead of on the layout!?).

| A | I | D | ← |
| N |spc| O | * |
| T |spc| R | ? |
| H | E | S |ent|

Very unsure about this one: It gives ALL the letters a nice bigram with space, but some letter bigrams suffer for it. Could it still be good? (Recall that the most common bigrams are th he in en nt re er an ti es on at se etc so those should be taken into account - although a proper analysis is needed for this.) At least, it'd be easier to model since you could pretty much ignore the to-space bigrams I'd think and just focus on the tap letters all of which are the same size.

Last edited by DreymaR (13-Feb-2013 11:40:29)

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DreymaR said:

Yes, let's stick with ANI HOR TES - I agree. Your work is very interesting though. I think you should've used Fitt's algorithm which doesn't use simple distance but tries to model actual pressing time and has been confirmed to work with many applications.

Yes, my formula is surely oversimplified, but since I'm comparing just main letter layouts, I could afford to neglect secondary parameters like pressing time (which would be the same for all tap letters).  So even though my results aren't absolute in terms of wpm speed like ME's, they can be used to order layouts relatively to each other, which was my goal.

Also, now I confirmed (approximately) the same result using a different approach, which has value in itself as well.

I don't think it'd be quite optimal when using dual-finger input but I'm certainly not sure what to use instead! Besides, the layout should be optimal for one-finger input primarily and only secondarily for more advanced techniques in my opinion. :)

Yes, dual finger typing will be much harder to model.  Contrary to touch typing on a physical keyboard, you can't assign a particular finger (L or R) to each motion.  And simply alternating fingers won't yield good results either.  The mind makes its own optimization for which finger to use for each letter, depending on the sequence it's in, and probably influenced by handedness and mere individual preference as well...

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DreymaR said:

How fast is 8pen? I'm now at 33 WPM with MessagEase, and Geert/ghen types a staggering 61 WPM with it!

Oh 8pen is really slow, I am at 12wpm now and doubt I'll ever break 20. It's ok for putting in a search term or writing an sms but the major problem is that you just cant move your finger arund at ever-increasing speed. It feels a lot like doing super neat handwriting. Also, it suffers a major flaw in that if you make a mistake (and you frequently do) then it completely breaks the flow and really hurts your speed. But!! I like it, it's actually quite fun to use. Typing anything more than a few words is a totaly exercise in frustration though, but for very short things like a search keyword or the first few letters of a url then in that case its the most enjoyable way of entering text I've ever seen.

We'll see how long it remains installed on my phone.

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If it's really slow, then it should be a no-go. I have rediscovered the joy of typing on my phone; I hardly thought that could happen! No I no longer feel confined when I have something lengthy I want to write down. I've been sitting with my Galaxy Note jotting down various song lyrics, just because I could and it's fun (and yes, because I wanted to rehearse those songs of course). It's the Colemak-y joy all over. ;)

Also, I don't think 8pen is as flexible? MessagEase can actually be used on a number pad; it was designed with those in mind! Of course, then a 'tap' letter becomes a double-tap which isn't so efficient and could get cramping after a while, but it's still possible to type quite fast on according to the creators. MessagEase could be used well on lots of different surfaces, even fancy credit cards! And it's nearly as good whether you use one finger, two fingers or a pen. And you can enter lots and lots of different letters, accented letters and symbols. Ingenious, powerful and flexible.

Last edited by DreymaR (28-Jan-2013 10:38:02)

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