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Instant Text and The One-Finger Keyboard

A very efficient method for entering text with a keyboard or a pen.

From Pen Computing #7 December 1995

Dr. Jean Ichbiah is a lousy typist with a lot to write about. As the creator and marketer of the computer language Ada, Dr. Ichbiah had plenty of text entry to do. After years of frustration entering long repetitive words and phrases on conventional keyboards, he decided to put his considerable talents to work on devising a better method to achieve text entry using PC keyboards, pen-based computers, and handheld devices. After years of researching methods of faster text entry, he founded Textware Solutions in 1992 to market his two-pronged solution: Instant Text, and the One-Finger Keyboard for pen devices.

Instant Text
Legal and medical transcribers often spend two hours revising for every one hour of text entry. Dr. Ichbiah concluded that in these and many other specialized fields the same words and phrases come up constantly. What is needed, he reasoned, was a "typed shorthand" that used glossaries of common terms in specific fields. Abbreviations have been used for years by common word processor software, but Dr. Ichbiah has something more ambitious in mind than merely expanding an abbreviation into a whole word. To gain true speed one would have to have a system that would not have to be laboriously trained to recognize abbreviations for the whole lexicon. He rejected the whole-dictionary approach as unwieldy due to the huge number of possible interpretations for most abbreviations.
So he designed Instant Text to use up to eight concurrently open glossaries that can be activated with a tap on a list. Additional glossaries can be maintained but opening them incurs a short delay. Best of all, users can create their own custom glossaries simply by telling the Instant Text application to look at a particular folder of text files and compile them into a glossary. Users can then enter abbreviations and pick the appropriate word or sentence from the list returned by the glossary. Instant Text then enters the word, phrase, or sentence automatically into the document. For example, if you are writing a contract and wish to enter the stock phrase "Consultant hereby agrees to perform the following" you could type "chatpft", "chf", "chpf", "chatpf", or "chat". You would not have to memorize any particular abbreviation as the glossary compiler knows them all, prompting you in the Advisory list so you can make your selection. If you then wish to type normally you do just that and Instant Text passes the non-abbreviated text right through as you would expect it to. If you want to enter a medical term, tap on the medical glossary and type your abbreviation. Operators in fields that frequently use words such as "hexachlorocyclopenadiene" obviously benefit greatly form typing "hxcp" instead.

A paragraph in five strokes
But Instant Text doesn't stop there. Additional phrases can be entered by using the Continuations feature, which lists the next most likely word or phrase after the last one you choose. For example, if you type "cc" and pick "covenants contained" you could expand "cc" to be "cchaog" and get "covenants contained herein and other good", whereupon another set of likely phrases would appear in the advisory, such as "hao" for "herein and other" and "haogav" for "herein and other good and valuable", etc.
The Instant Text approach should initially find a welcome home in vertical fields where the language is fairly dry and consistent. I wouldn't be surprised if the technology soon shows up as a standard feature in regular wordprocessors. Instant Text, of course, is not a tool for writing novels, but for text entry that can be "glossarized" it significantly outperforms other abbreviation alternatives.

The One-Finger Keyboard
While Instant Text runs fine with a keyboard and a mouse, it really shines with a pen, the ideal selection tool. However, when researching pen entry, Dr. Ichbiah's high powered brain once again got into high gear: he quickly decided that using a floating QWERTY-style on-screen keyboard makes little sense since QWERTY was designed for ten-finger operation with human hands, not for tapping with a pen. When using a pen on a screen one would ideally have to move the pen as little as possible.
Ichbiah's solution is the mathematically developed One-Finger Keyboard, also called FITALY after the second row of letters. The FITALY keyboard arranges the letters in a box rather than the conventional long rectangle design necessitated by the traditional placement of two hands next to each other. Research indicated that 84% of text entry strokes can be placed in a very tight pattern, with the remaining strokes never more than two keys away. Compare this with the QWERTY layout: the word "paper" typed conventionally requires a total travel of 26 spaces, while the FITALY keyboard requires only nine.
As is to be expected, using FITALY feels weird at first, but makes a lot of sense the more you use it. It is a primary contender to become a standard for keyboard data entry on pen devices.
Of course, Instant Text can also be used with a regular QWERTY popup. Either way, Dr. Ichbiah's latest invention may well find lots of applications and save lots of people lots of time.

For more information: Call Textware Solutions at 1-800-355-5251.


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