May 3, 2006 8:49 AM PDT

Microsoft scientists pushing keyboard into the past

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--How can you find information about Condoleezza Rice on the Internet? Type in "2*#7423".

That is if you have a copy of a prototype program from Microsoft Research currently named The Wild Thing. The application, for cell phones and handhelds, essentially lets consumers conduct queries with abbreviations and truncated spellings of words, said its developer Bo Thiesson.

The query TR SF turns up Thai restaurants in San Francisco, complete with search results grouped under a header for local Thai restaurants. It also turns up Tower Records and The Stinking Rose, a local restaurant, but punching in those four letters took less time on a handheld keyboard that the full formal query on a cell phone keypad.

Photo: Rethinking the keyboard

The Condi Rice query was conducted by using the telenumeric pad on the phone, where numbers represent three sequential letters (i.e. 2 equals A, B or C while 3 is D, E or F etc.) and punctuation marks represent word spaces or other grammatical rules. The query turned up grouped search results for Brown Rice, Anne Rice and Cellular Shades, but the Condi Rice group of results was listed first.

"The more popular an item is, the less letters I can get away with," he said. The application, he hopes, will be included in phones within a year. The company is currently in talks with device makers and carriers.

Cell phones are one of the dominant themes of the Microsoft Research road show, a traveling exhibition of technologies and prototypes from its labs. Naturally, one of the primary concerns is how to make it easier to input data or navigate the Web with a device that can't accommodate a traditional keyboard.

Xnav is another stab at the problem. It is a software interface where users input letters through sweeping motions and gestures. The letters (see photo) are arranged around the perimeter of a square screen divided into 10 blocks. To spell an "h" a user starts in the neutral space (the center, or block No. 5), sweeps his or her finger or a stylus to block No. 3 (for letters g, h, i, j and k) and then to block No. 2 (because h is the second letter in previously selected group No. 3). Double-clutching and hovering over certain spaces will activate the shift key and give access to punctuation marks.

"It depends on age. Millenniums (kids aged 10 to 21) are wicked fast," said John SanGiovanni, a Microsoft engineer who is developing the program in conjunction with researchers at NYU. "The goal is to get to 45 words per minute. Right now, I'm at just south of 30."

IBM has developed a similar prototype called Shark, while Hewlett-Packard has created one for the Indian market that accommodates Hindi and other languages.

Microsoft also showed off Pinpoint, an application that lets one person track another person's geographical whereabouts with GPS or triangulation with Wi-Fi or cellular. With Pinpoint, for instance, parents can tell if their kids have made it to the movies, or gone to a part of town they aren't supposed to go to. If you are running late for a dinner party, the system sends your geographic location to the host.

"It is all based on permission," said Rick Hughes, who is developing the system. Trials will begin soon. As far as accuracy goes, GPS is tough to beat, he said. Nonetheless, because GPS doesn't track indoors, Pinpoint will look at data from Wi-Fi or cellular.

Of the two, Wi-Fi triangulation works better. A cellular signal emanating from one spot will often rapidly switch from transmitting from one tower to another, which makes it look like the person is moving, he said.

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14 comments

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Microsoft's...
... "scientists" should consider delivering a more useful OS/2 and Windows Operating Systems before attempting to change what the world has become accustomed to! How about Microsoft's Scientists delivering on more compelling *voice* activated and dictated *SPREADSHEET* and other applications!
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Awesome!!!
I've always wanted my keyboard to crash, now that dream is destined to become a reality all thanks to Microsoft scientists.

Only bad thing is I will have to connect to <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://keyboardupdate.microsoft.com" target="_newWindow">http://keyboardupdate.microsoft.com</a> once a week to keep it patched and protected to keep all the cellphone scriptkiddies from haxoring my keyboard.
Posted by SeizeCTRL (1333 comments )
Reply Link Flag
People have such nice things to say.
GET A LIFE YOU FING HATERS!
Posted by Oleg Simkin (53 comments )
Reply Link Flag
QUIRKY QUERTY
Isn't Microsloth working on "innovating" hand writing recognition with their Uber-Newton-Palm "the Tablet PC"?

Isn't Microsloth working on speech recognition technology "innovation" ala Bell Labs for computers?
(Go the the MSHouse Of The Future at Jurassic Park Campus to hear their "Talking Kitchen" reading recipes to you (sounds exactly like the VoiceTalk software on Macs that convert text to speech that's been on Macs for at least a decade.)
Innovation?

Now they are tackling the qwerty keyboard...?
These dudes have too much money &#38; time on their hands.
Posted by Llib Setag (951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"These dudes...
... have too much money &#38; time on their hands."; it would be *soooooooo nice* if someone can sit in their car (KIT) and ask it with VIA VOICE with OS/2 "embedded" - where is the nearest *filling station with the cheapest prices* at any given geographic location in the USA! This should be something meaningful and purposeful for these "dudes" from Microsoft to focus on; and, this will be HANDS FREE leaving motorist to concentrate on their DRIVING! ;-) ;-) ;-)
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Link Flag
Bias
What is wrong with hedging your bet? Apple did the same by ensuring x86 compatability even while insulting Intel.

Speech recognition will never be suitible for all enviroments. For example, in a noisy room.
Posted by Andrew J Glina (1673 comments )
Link Flag
Productivity of Text Messaging
This is just glorified text messaging using the
twelve keys from a telephone key pad. I could
never figure out how this ever became as popular
as it is (More so in Europe/Asia than North
America. Probably has to do with pricing
schemes.) . Having to hit up to 17 keys to type
out 5 letters seems totally stupid. Now
Microsoft thinks that they are going to make a
keyboard for a computer that provides the same
productivity of a telephone keypad.
Posted by Mallardd (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Productivity
But then again, how productive can Microsoft
Scientists expect people to be with Windows? I
think they figured out the productivity formula:

Windows Vista + Telephone Keypad = Windows 95
Posted by Mallardd (47 comments )
Link Flag
Learn how to use T9W loser
You don't need all those key strokes.

get a real phone that does t9word
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Link Flag
I'll have to crip any notes and leads; though the front desk can type;(VNP)
Nice lead into using a better keypad for the shoulder bag "Jet Setters".
Posted by Pop4 (88 comments )
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