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Wrio’s roomier keyboard app launches on Android, iOS

TechCrunch TechCrunch 24/05/2016 Natasha Lomas

There have been many attempts to update keyboards for the digital era and speed up typing by rethinking the antique Qwerty layout. Problem is you’re going up against muscle memory, and resistance to change the habit of a lifetime. And that’s a very hard nut to crack.

Still, a plucky Swiss startup has been working on a third way with their Wrio keyboard app — just launched on iOS and Android (as a paid download) after a successful crowdfunder last year, followed by a beta test with some 800 testers.

They’re claiming testers were able to speed up their typing by between 20 and 70 per cent vs standard Qwerty layouts using Wrio’s roomier keyboard.

The trick they came up with is to reshape keys from squares to honeycomb-style hexagons which allows individual keys to be a bit larger, thereby, they claim, reducing the likelihood of typos. They’ve also reduced the size of the spacebar — splitting it into two single space keys in the centre of the keyboard. And have deleted the backspace key entirely. If you want to delete something you swipe from right to left anywhere across the keyboard. Faster delete can be performed by a more sustained/slow-drag back swipe. Or a flick will just delete one letter.

Other gestures Wrio uses include swiping right and holding to restore deleted text. While swiping up on an individual letter will type a capital version of it, allowing them to ditch shift keys on their keyboard too. Holding down on a letter will summon accents (if there are any), although a feature that supposedly lets you swipe left and right to access different accents (again, if there are any) was not working when I tested the iOS app.

Elsewhere other keys, such as the globe keyboard toggle key on iOS, have been moved onto the second keyboard screen to save space. Numbers and most symbols are also found here.

A few key punctuation symbols remain on the primary keyboard, with eight commonly used symbols packed into two keys. Tapping on either key will serve up the primary symbol; tapping and holding will serve up the secondary symbol; then it’s an up swipe to reach the third; or up and to the right for the fourth.

There’s also a gesture shortcut to an emoji deck: by flicking up on the key that toggles between the primary and secondary keyboard layouts. Here emojis have been grouped into symbols, smilies, animals, places and flags for quick tap access to the type of emoji you’re after (although the symbols selection was not currently working on iOS).

Multiple languages

As well as focusing on optimizing the keyboard layout to maximize space Wrio has another trick up its sleeve: support for multiple languages. Over time, a personalized user dictionary can be built up to offer tailored work predictions based on the languages you regularly type.

As someone who has ruined their native iOS autocorrection feature by typing a mixture of English and Spanish (and some Spanglish) I can honestly say this feature sounds like a godsend. However, at the time of writing, I was not able to test its claims.

Firstly because it’s not yet launched on iOS (it’s coming in the next app update in a “few weeks”, they say). But also because it needs “one to two weeks” of learning how a user types before it starts autocorrecting. So the jury is out on how effective Wrio’s multi-language corrections prove. Nice idea for sure — let’s see about the execution.

At this point they are supporting more than 30 languages, and the app lets you specify a primary language, then a secondary one, and so on.

I was able to test basic typing on the Wrio honeycomb, which also supports a few different color themes for user customization. This is still roughly a Qwerty layout but it’s not identical so it will certainly slow you down initially.

That said, it’s not as radically different as some other keyboard layout disruptors so it doesn’t feel too immediately alien. If you are willing to be a bit patient about retraining your fingertaps you shouldn’t find yourself feeling the need to rage quit after five minutes. And that’s actually pretty impressive for an attempt to reconfigure Qwerty. Habits of a lifetime die hard.

As for the claims of reducing typos, the keys certainly feel bigger (with the exception of the space bar/keys), so it’s possible that typing accuracy could be improved over time. But again, that’s probably down to your individual typing/tapping style. The dual spaced out space keys might also be an acquired taste.

Asked about the time required to learn Wrio, the startup says it took about one to two weeks to be as fast as Qwerty in a speed test they conducted, and in total about three to four weeks to become “noticeably faster”.

Perhaps the most immediate selling point for Wrio might be an accessibility one — given the more generous letter spacing looks like it might make it easier to identify/see individual keys. Which may be useful for people with visual impairment. Along with the ability to change the color of the keyboard.

On the privacy front, Wrio says it does not harvest any keystroke data. And all user dictionary data is stored locally on the device (and can be deleted by the user). It’s also possible to opt out of this feature if you just want to use the tweaked keyboard layout without any autocorrection.

The app is currently $3/€3 during a discount launch phase, and will be $5 thereafter.

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