Wearable Tech World Feature Article
October 13, 2014

Microsoft's New Android Live Keyboard May Boast Unusual, Key-Free Interface

A keyboard, as the term is commonly understood, generally requires keys, or buttons to press to generate numbers, letters and symbols on a screen. But a new report from the Microsoft research wing suggests that, when it comes to the upcoming field of Android Wear smartwatches, keys may not play a big part in its input strategy thanks to Analog Keyboard.

Analog Keyboard is described as a breed of prototype input app, which allows users to put characters on screen by dint of simply drawing said characters with a fingertip. It's actually a similar idea to some of the very earliest in personal digital assistant (PDA), but augmented suitably for a new era thanks to a fairly substantial area in which to draw characters, backed up by an auto-correct feature that automatically shuts off with a bit of a pause between letters.

While Analog Keyboard is set to represent something of a new way—in a sense—of interacting with one's devices, there are some things that will prove missing, at least at this stage of the game. The app needs to be sideloaded in order to work, and it has no support as yet for capital letters in a bid to save battery life. Those with lower-resolution watches, meanwhile, will also be out in the cold, at least for now; those who picked up, say, a Samsung Gear Live should be all right, but G Watch users won't be. This is still fairly early-stage stuff, so there could be some improvements coming down the line to make it a bit easier to work with, and able to work on more devices and with the full range of letters, but for now it's really just getting started.

It's a clever enough idea, and probably one that could have been brought in before now. But it's clear that, at the early stage, this really isn't going to be too useful for many, unless there's a big problem with voice dictation. It's good that Microsoft's taking this in new directions—it certainly beats trying to fit a keyboard into a wrist-mounted unit, something that would result in the strangest of typos with a word like “cat” turning into a 13-letter monstrosity better suited to a Scrabble tournament—but this direction might not work all that well. Still, it's clear that the effort is going forward and some new things are being tried, and the current reports suggest that it works fairly well. Early responses from potential users, meanwhile, appears to be somewhat mixed.

It will be exciting to see where this goes when it goes fully live, but for now, Microsoft's Android Wear keyboard will really only go so far. It's got quite a few downsides to it, and it may not ultimately represent the kind of convenience that's needed to get it to the point where it's a better value than just taking one's phone out of a pocket or the like and using its interface to send messages and the like. Getting past prototype and into a full-on release, however, may give it that extra burst that it needs to really advance and give wearable tech that little extra bit of market credibility.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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