Microsoft explains the design behind the Windows 8 touch keyboard

Email Twitter: @ronwinbeta Jul 17th, 2012 inNews

In a new official Building Windows 8 blog post, written using the Windows 8 on-screen touch keyboard, Microsoft explains the design behind the Windows 8 touch keyboard. Microsoft designed a keyboard that meets the needs of users, matches design principles, and works well with various form factors.

Microsoft wanted a keyboard that enters text quickly, reasonably close to the speed with which they type on a physical keyboard; avoids errors, and be able to easily correct mistakes; and enters text comfortably, in terms of posture, interaction with the device, and social setting. Microsoft made a mistake when designed a keyboard that had a “downshift” key, which was supposed to give a quick peek at symbols. Microsoft realized it was confusing users by having this “downshift” key. By simplying pressing and holding a key, you can now see accented characters. Microsoft even conducted a study and learned that people primarily look at the textfield where their characters appear, so Microsoft designed the text suggestion experience behind this study.

Several keys are on the current touch keyboard design that allow for quick access to other useful keys, here is a quick rundown of them:

  • The backspace key is there because it’s used very frequently on physical keyboards and touch keyboards. If we removed it, you would find your finger groping for it repeatedly.
  • The mode switch key is essential to moving between views and languages and for hiding the keyboard. IME users will find that this is how you switch to Windows IMEs, which also feature touch-optimized keyboard layouts.
  • The CTRL key and the right and left arrow keys are intended for text editing operations. You can move your input cursor and cut, copy, and paste without moving your hands from the keyboard. (Note that the CTRL key works just as it does on a physical keyboard—so any supported combination will work. We include labels for things like cut, copy, paste, and bold, because they are related to text editing. The touch keyboard is not intended for “commanding,” which is why you don’t see things like the Windows key or function keys. That is a deliberate decision to stay focused on the goal of being really great for typing.
  • The space bar is centered and wide. Physical keyboard research shows that about 80% of strikes on the space bar occur on the right (if you look at older keyboards, you will notice the wear on that side). This holds for touch keyboards too, where people will miss the spacebar if it’s not ample-sized, and this creates errors that are hard to recover from.
  • The “emoji” or emoticon key switches you to emoji view, where we support a full set of Unicode-based emoji characters. The use of emoji continues to grow worldwide, and has become a part of how people write and express themselves.
  • We also include an option for a standard keyboard layout, which can be useful on a PC without a keyboard when using desktop software that requires function keys or other extended keys. This is easily enabled from the settings Charm, in the General Settings section of PC Settings.

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