U of T spinoff company launches tiny, smarter keyboard

Author: 
Elizabeth Monier-Williams

For users of mobile, touchscreen devices it's an appealing idea: what if you could make a smarter, more accurate keyboard yet gain more space on your touchscreen?

Meet Minuum, “the little keyboard for big fingers" from Whirlscape Inc., a tech start-up from Associate Professor Khai Truong of the University of Toronto's Department of Computer Science and alumnus Will Walmsley of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. 

Within hours of its launch March 18, 2013, Minuum’s crowdfunding campaign was covered by TechCrunch, CBC News, TechCrunch Japan, Toronto Standard and Mobile Syrup. Whirlscape had aimed to raise $10,000 on Indiegogo by April 17, 2013 - but the company had already raised more than twice that amount within the first day.

A tiny, one-dimensional keyboard that frees up mobile screen space while allowing fast, accurate typing, Minuum uses a specialized, patent-protected auto-correction algorithm that corrects highly imprecise typing.This algorithm, based on the touchscreen and wearable device research of founders Truong and Walmsley, configures the difference between what you type and what you mean, in real time – getting it right even if you miss every single letter.

“While our mobile devices are becoming smarter and faster, the keyboard has coasted into the 21st century essentially unchanged from the days of the typewriter; now we’re stuck with keyboards that cover up half a smartphone screen but don’t make up in accuracy what they take up in screen space,” says Walmsley, CEO of Whirlscape. “Realizing we could minimize the keyboard while maintaining accuracy was the eureka moment. We’ve changed what a keyboard needs to be, enabling a future of typing with wearable technology.”

Minuum improves mobile typing by:

•Recovering more than half of the usable touchscreen space lost when typing on traditional virtual keyboards
•Allowing for fast, accurate text entry when typing is sloppy
•Providing letter magnification for precise typing—especially useful for large fingers
•Respecting user familiarity with the existing QWERTY keyboard
•Providing convenient access to everything users expect in a keyboard (such as punctuation, space, backspace, and enter) without stealing screen space
•Letting you type anywhere—with a keyboard you can move around your touchscreen.

The Minuum touchscreen keyboard is the first step of the Minuum project, which seeks to bring simplified typing to mobile and wearable devices. The Minuum layout is “one-dimensional” because it presents a continuum of letters, laid out in a row.  Its product offerings address typing errors in widespread applications like e-mail and text messaging (SMS), initially through alternative keyboards on Android devices but the company plans to offer it for iOS (iPhone, iPad) and other platforms or OEM devices.

The simplicity, size, and accuracy of Minuum make it the perfect keyboard to fit into the future of wearable computing, said Walmsley. The campaign will fund the launch of an Android keyboard app, along with an iOS (iPhone, iPad) keyboard for developers to put into their apps. But although the first implementation of this technology is for smartphones and tablets, its type-anywhere implications are far-reaching, he added.

The Minuum keyboard’s beta version will be available for technology journalists to test for free in June 2013. (Read more information and product specifications here.) Founded in June 2012, Whirlscape has received seed funding from the University of Toronto Early Stage Technology, or UTEST program and MaRS Innovation. Whirlscape is engaged in developing fully functional Minuum keyboards for Android, incorporating touchscreen entry and motion-controlled modes. The company is also prototyping wearable typing devices to test its technology to its limits.