Touch-Typing App Coming for iPhones
Mario Romero demonstrates an early version of BrailleTouch, a touch-typing app for iPhones that doesn't require people to look while they type.
CREDIT: Georgia Tech on YouTube
An upcoming iPhone app will let users type on the phone faster and more accurately, and without ever having to look at the screen. If it spreads, it will turn many smartphone users into Braille typists.
BrailleTouch, based on the alphabet designed for visually impaired people but being marketed to everyone, is due out by Jan. 31. It will let users type at an average speed of 23 words per minute, which is faster than most sighted people can type on an iPhone, according to BrailleTouch's makers, a team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology. It's also much faster than Apple's VoiceOver app for visually impaired people.
For sighted users who don't know Braille, the app provides all the training they need in about an hour, the researchers say.
The app has been under development for more than a year — TechNewsDaily first talked with lead researcher Mario Romero last February, after he and his Georgia Tech team had finished testing a prototype — but it's finally ready for download.
Text, tweet and email in Braille
The app requires users to hold their iPhones in a unique way. Users cradle the phone between their thumbs and pinkies, in landscape mode, with the touch screen facing away from them. They then tap in Braille combinations using their first three fingers on both hands.
For sighted users, BrailleTouch may be faster than the conventional iPhone keyboard because they don't have to aim their fingers at dozens of tiny keys. Instead, there are just six finger positions to key in and learn. [SEE ALSO: How to Write 'Emoji' on Your iPhone]
For users with vision impairments who want to use Braille on their phones, BrailleTouch would replace separate Braille keyboards for smartphones that cost at least $1,800, Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, told TechNewsDaily last year. Braille literacy is low, however, with as little as 10 percent of blind people able to read and write in Braille.
BrailleTouch's makers will offer a free version that trains users in Braille and lets users type while a voice says what letters or words they're entering. Caleb Southern, a Georgia Tech doctoral student who worked on BrailleTouch, said Braille instructors could use the free version as a teaching tool without any upgrades.
Other users may choose to buy an upgrade that lets them send text messages, emails and tweets and copy-paste their BrailleTouch-entered text into other apps. The entire upgrade package will cost no more than $20, Southern wrote on AppleVis, a forum about Apple products for visually impaired people.
No Grade 2 support yet
There's one major drawback to BrailleTouch that came up several times on AppleVis. The app supports only Grade 1 Braille, which means letter-by-letter typing. Commenters noted that experienced Braille users rely on Grade 2 Braille, which allows them to key in abbreviations and contractions.
"To discover now that grade 2 won't be an option when that is such a fundamental element of Braille and the ability to type at speed is amazing," one commenter wrote on AppleVis. "I may still buy to support your endeavor, but the pricing seems steep given that there will be no grade 2 initially."
Grade 2 support is the research team's top priority for a future version of the app, BrailleTouch wrote in response.
Most university-based research projects take years to make it to market, if they ever do. After the feedback they got at academic conferences, the BrailleTouch team decided to make a user-ready version of their app. "The most typical response was, 'When can I download it?'" Romero told TechNewsDaily last February.
At the time, Romero hoped to have BrailleTouch ready by this past summer. Now the team is announcing a release date of Jan. 31 or earlier. The app will work on iPhones and iPod touch devices, but not on iPads or Android devices.