Toronto-based startup Whirlscape believes that taking a keyboard originally designed for a typewriter, turning it digital and calling it a day is the wrong way to go about making the best possible smartphone text entry experience. That’s why the young company from a team of University of Toronto faculty and researchers created Minuum, a new kind of virtual keyboard that it’s now looking to fund via Indiegogo.
Minuum does away with the traditional three rows of letters and space bar layout of a standard QWERTY keyboard, replacing that with a single line of letters and predictive typing algorithms that help reclaim a huge percentage of usable screen real estate, while supposedly retaining precision entry capabilities. It’s designed to keep the QWERTY order mostly in place to ease the transition from standard software keyboards, but also includes powerful auto-correction algorithms to make sure you can be pretty sloppy with text entry and still get a usable result. Think something like Fleksy, but with a very different approach.
Part of that difference is Minuum’s ability to extend its innovative typing model to hardware devices beyond just smartphones and tablets. The company is planning an Android app as well as an iOS SDK for developers who want to use it in their own apps, but there’s also plenty of opportunity for Minuum to type practically anywhere. In the demo video, we see the project creators showing it working via camera capture tech like that used in the Microsoft Kinect or Google Glass, with just a hastily scrawled keyboard written in pen on the tester’s arm. It could also work with hardware designed to detect fine motor movement like the forthcoming MYO armband.
“All of the different kinds of techniques people have been working on are really focused on touch screens, and everyone is starting to build swipe into their different kinds of keyboards,” Whirlscape co-founder and CEO Will Walmsley explained in an interview. “I think the future of small devices is not going to be limited to touchscreen things. Given that we have devices that are as smart as they are, thinking beyond the touchscreen just makes a lot of sense.”
First, however, Whirlscape will be focusing on making its prototype iOS and Android software ready to ship by the start of 2014 (public betas arriving later this year), with a hardware SDK to follow sometime after that. Whirlscape has some seed funding already from UTEST, the University of Toronto’s early stage accelerator program, and MaRS Innovation, but believes crowdfunding is the best course of action to generate buzz while gearing up for public launch. Walmsley explained that Indiegogo helps it build a direct relationship with users, as well as create a pool of early adopters from which to draw testers for the initial private beta.
Ultimately, Walmsley says that the goal is to work direct with OEMs to get Minuum in front of as many users as possible. If it can deliver on its promise of flexibility and cross-platform functionality, it should have no problem attracting suitors once it launches.