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Researchers create zoomable display for smartwatches

How to use the tiny keyboard on wearable computers? Zoom it, say Carnegie Mellon scientists

May 6, 2013 01:46 PM ET

Computerworld - As developers create tiny computer devices like smartwatches, one question they face is how to make tiny keyboards usable.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they have a solution to that problem. They have developed what's called a ZoomBoard, a technology that enables a user to tap the screen once or twice to enlarge an individual key until it's large enough for the user's finger to press accurately.

"You aren't going to write a novel, but it gets the job done," said Stephen Oney, a graduate student in the Carnegie Mellon Human-Computer Interaction Institute. "This opens up new possibilities for devices such as smartwatches, which generally lack any means of entering text, as many aren't powerful enough for voice recognition."

Companies including Google, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft are thought to be working on smartwatches.

The Google watch is believed to include a processor, a flip-up display, a tactile user interface and a wireless transceiver that can connect to a wireless router.

The smartwatches would join what may be a growing family of wearable computers, such as Google's upcoming Glass computerized eyeglasses that can take photos and video, send and receive email, and post updates to social networks.

With wearable computers small enough to fit on the face of a watch, however, the keyboard would need to be equally as small, making it difficult for users to type an email message or the address for GPS.

The Carnegie Mellon researchers decided to get around this problem by enabling the screen to zoom in much larger, making particular keys large enough to press accurately.

According to the university, capital letters can be typed by momentarily holding a key. A swipe to the left deletes a character. A swipe to the right types a space. An upward swipe calls up a secondary keyboard of numbers and other symbols.

"Users can enter about 10 words per minute at high accuracy on a keyboard the size of a penny," said Chris Harrison, a graduate student working on the project, in a statement. "That's plenty fast enough to dial a phone number, or enter 'where is pizza?' or get 'directions home.' A lot of people are banking on voice for text entry on very small devices. But sometimes you need to enter something discretely and without a big fuss."

ZoomBoard shows off a variety of ultra-small QWERTY-style "keyboards" in this video.

This article, Researchers create zoomable display for smartwatches, was originally published at

covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at Twitter @sgaudin, on , or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed Gaudin RSS. Her email address is

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