18
Dec
2012-12-18_17h23_14

Developers, repeat after me: invisible keyboards never work. Do you understand? Good. I hope we're clear on this. Because after trying to use the ridiculous "invisible" SnapKeys Si, which blocks more on-screen crap than any other input software I've ever seen, I'm ready to throw my beloved Nexus 7 through the next wall to look at me funny.

Here's the basic idea behind how SnapKeys Si works: Instead of being given a full QWERTY keyboard, you get a selection of twelve letters, divided among four colored blocks. If you want to type one of these letters, you just hit its block. If you want to type a letter that's not on one of the squares, you just tap anywhere in between the boxes. Sounds simple enough, right?

You know nothing! Until you've beheld this digital specter of death with your own mortal eyes, speak nothing of "simplicity" to me!

2012-12-18 17.09.38 2012-12-18 17.13.29 compositemenus

Left: Regular keyboard layout, Middle: Numbers and symbols, Right: Composite screenshot of all three hidden menus (not all are visible at once). All: Your nightmares for the week

For starters, let's deal with the simple typing problems this keyboard presents: While most input methods will autocorrect based on what keys you may have accidentally hit, this one takes roughly half the alphabet and throws it into a big ol' bucket and says it will just guess which letter you meant to type. Which fits nicely with the theme of guessing where to put your fingers to begin with.

You know what, though? It's okay. We'll keep an open mind. After all, this is Android. We allow for things that have a steep learning curve if it makes things more efficient, right? Sure, it might take some time to memorize the location of letters on this keyboard, but if it makes things faster, we're all for it.

Out of six autocorrect options, this thing did not guess that I was trying to type the word "me!"

For frig's sake, man.

But, okay. Alright. You still have manual input options! Kinda! Sure, yes. Let's go with that. In the event that autocorrect fails you, it's still possible to backspace your way to the beginning and try again, manually typing each individual letter you know, for maximum efficiency. So, as long as I still have that option, why am I so obviously frustrated with this 'invisible keyboard? I'll give you a hint...

2012-12-18 17.22.38

IT'S NOT FREAKING INVISIBLE.

Seriously. By this definition of "invisible," do you know what would happen to every mischievous, young sci-fi protagonist who discovers a magical cloak and then sneaks into the ladies locker room? HE'D GET FRIGGIN' MACED IN THE EYEHOLES.

If there's a way to turn this thing invisible, I haven't found it. I checked every one of those weird, hover-menu options. I opened up the app in the drawer. I long-pressed everything I could get my furious little fingers on. Couldn't find it. If their idea of invisible is that it doesn't take up half your screen like most real keyboards do, well, sure. Look at all that extra real estate! And how completely wasted it is because this thing floats over the only part of this chat window I care about.

In SnapKeys' defense, some boxes input text at the top, so this would be safely out of the way on the bottom of the screan and leave me plenty of room, but I don't have use for a keyboard that is only better half the time and a magnificent pain in the ass the other half.

Oh, and here's the kicker: even if you could make the keyboard invisible, it won't do you much good until you've memorized which keys to press and where all the hidden menu options are. It would be more difficult to use this if it actually did what it says on the box.

This is a bad idea. Worse than a bad idea, it's entirely unnecessary. Is it mildly annoying that keyboards take up a huge amount of space on mobile devices? Yes. Absolutely. Is it ridiculous that in landscape mode, sometimes the keyboard takes up the entire display? Of course! Has any replacement ever worked where step one is "Okay, now relearn the things you've been taught since elementary school?" Not usually.

It may be inefficient, but the fact is that over the last five years, devices that use digital QWERTY keyboards sell like hot cakes. It already works. The layout is fine. Every innovation that's been successful has nothing to do with changing where to put letters.

SnapKeys Si is currently in a semi-private beta. You need to sign up here, but as soon as you complete registration, you'll be able to download it. And you know what, in the interest of open-mindedness, I absolutely encourage you to try it. Don't let me tell you what works best for you. I will not, however, be held responsible for any property damage as a result of your unbridled rage after using this thing.

Source: SnapKeys signup page

SnapKeys Launches Beta of SnapKeys Si – The Only Real Invisible Keyboard App for Mobile Devices

Radical New Approach to Keyboard Technology Empowers Consumers to “Take Back their Screens – opening mobile social interaction” in Time for the Holidays

NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--SnapKeys (www.snapkeys.com), the developer of a unique innovative typing interface for mobile devices, today announced the beta launch of SnapKeys Si, the first ever invisible keyboard app to free smartphones and tablets of obstructive, on-screen keyboards. SnapKeys Si brings social interaction to a new level, by opening the screen by way of only four translucent keys so users can see and interact with mobile content, something that was not possible until now. Additionally, SnapKeys Si offers simplicity, speed, accuracy, and comfort to the overall mobile user experience. Mobile users with Android devices can view online video demos and download the free application atwww.snapkeys.com.

“Despite innovations in smartphone and tablet technology, mobile devices today are still reliant on QWERTY-based keyboard designs, which were originally intended for typewriters and computers as a separate peripheral from the screen. The screen space of small mobile devices is precious and cannot be occupied by many keys.”

As the result of extensive research and development and a rich portfolio of filed patents in data entry and human computer interaction, SnapKeys Si powers lively, interactive, and social experiences on touchscreen devices like smartphones and tablets without a full-sized onscreen keyboard blocking visual content and requiring excessive finger movements. This configuration of only four invisible keys and minimal letters, results in a comfortable keyboard that is so intuitive users do not even need to see it on their screen. Without a full keyboard taking up the most of the screen, users have the opportunity to interact and comment on visual content more effectively, specifically in applications like Facebook™, Email, Search, Instagram™, and YouTube™.

“SnapKeys Si brings a long overdue upgrade to the mobile device market, where the screens of mobile devices have been limited to a QWERTY keyboard and a small text box,” said Benjamin Ghassabian, CEO and founder of SnapKeys. “Despite innovations in smartphone and tablet technology, mobile devices today are still reliant on QWERTY-based keyboard designs, which were originally intended for typewriters and computers as a separate peripheral from the screen. The screen space of small mobile devices is precious and cannot be occupied by many keys.”

With only 4 keys, a few frequently used letters and a unique word prediction technology, SnapKeys Si is easy to pick up - in a matter of a few minutes. Users can type very fast with high accuracy in comfort.

The SnapKeys Si app learns user’s typing style as they type. Users can also add words like names and slang into its predictive text technology. SnapKeys Si also often predicts words after just typing a few characters.

Eric Ravenscraft
Eric is a snarky technophile with a taste for the unusual. When he's not obsessing about Android, you can usually find him obsessing about movies, psychology, or the perfect energy drink. Eric weaves his own special blend of snark, satire, and comedy into all his articles.

  • CitrusRain

    Looks like I'd be better off using a numpad.

  • JonJJon

    The keyboard is the keyboard, it's one of those inventions that I personally believe does not need reinventing, at least not to this silly extent. Swiftkey, Swipe etc are all great in my eyes as they add to the qwerty layout in terms of features, they don't "take away" from it or jumble it up to make it cryptic to use.

  • http://k3rnel.net Juan Rodriguez

    Kinda reminds me of 8pen. I felt ridiculous and frustrated just trying to learn to use it. Felt like sending my phone off to a wall too, but instead just replaced it with the generic Android keyboard.

    • TK

      To be fair, 8pen did work even if you didn't like it. It had terrible space/punctuation which is why I stopped using it

      • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

        I got reasonably fast at 8pen, and I liked the concept, especially that it was one of the few keyboards that truly didn't require you to look at it once you were comfortable. But I agree, punctuation and a few of the modifiers were awful, and the learning curve was too brutal.

  • Brian

    For those users who type on their phone and find themselves not needing to look at the keyboard much, I think that a non-gimmicky invisible keyboard is possible. It will work as follows: 1. Can be made visible at will. 2. Users a qwerty keyboard. 3. Can detect if fingers have become misaligned with the keyboard. However, I think that only a small portion of users will be able and willing to take advantage of such a keyboard (which would ideally just be a feature of an existing keyboard). It really isn't worth implementing.

  • Wayne Randall

    Maced in the eyeholes!

    Thanks for the comedy sketch Eric. Lol.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/eric-ravenscraft/ Eric Ravenscraft

      I aim to please.

  • Shaq

    My grandma (bless her cotton socks) has tried so hard to get used to her newfangled android phone. I might set this as her default keyboard for jokes.

    • http://twitter.com/TheChrisGlass Chris Glass

      You are evil.

  • James

    I actually played with this, and picked it up quickly. You can make the keys transparent from the settings menu. Dude, if you work with it for a little, and use it for a day you get used to it surprisingly quickly. Once you do, then the sky is the limit as far as speed goes when you have just two buttons under your thumbs, you can go ridiculously fast. I also see how SnapKeys Si is starting to pick up on my language and the way i type. I am going to stick with this. Especially after watching their promo video which shows how you can chat while watching sports events on your device (really cool). I would not be so close minded, and the stock keyboard really pisses me off when i type as i have to always go back and correct a couple of words that i mistyped. I am sure by giving SnapKeys a little bit of time in beta, we will see a new user interface which will make apps MUCH MORE lively then the BS qwerty keyboard we use today. Like you said Eric no one can judge, just download it and try it.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/eric-ravenscraft/ Eric Ravenscraft

      Can you tell me where you found the Settings menu to make the keyboard transparent? I honestly looked absolutely everywhere and tapped on everything and I really just can't find it.

      • ctd1500

        Hold down on the backspace key and you'll see the settings gears icon to open the settings. From there, slide the transparency slider to set how invisible you want SnapKeys to be.

  • Will Paccione

    I tried it too and it's terrible. When they first showed their idea, the areas of the screen represented letters by their shape. At least that made some sense. I tried using it and gave up quick.

  • Freak4Dell

    What happens if I install this keyboard, then turn off autocorrect like I normally do with every keyboard I install?

  • smeddy

    While this is an editorial, as you've snagged off a brand new app, even within the headline, (all of which you are free to do), I'd like to see a few other AP staff take up the challenge for their verdict.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/eric-ravenscraft/ Eric Ravenscraft

      I'll pass the message along and see if any of the guys would like to actually install it, but when they saw my screenshots of the keyboard in action, they were... well, they didn't seem too enthusiastic about trying it themselves.

      • Snapkeys

        Your "screenshot" that is misleading and edited by you, combines several real screenshots put together to make a complex and confusing image that does not and cannot exist in this technology. Your “screenshot” on the right (of a chat with Cameron Summers) is not the "keyboard in action" as you falsely state here in your comment - you are clearly misleading your audience. After all, you state in your article (in very small print) "Composite screenshot of all three hidden menu (not all are visible at once).”

        As you have stated, this is a BETA launch - any helpful insights are welcome so that we can make Snapkeys Si work better for you and your audience. Insightful comments are always helpful.

        By the way, the time that you spent to compose the “screenshot” (on the right), probably took you much longer than to view Snapkeys Quick Start (http://www.snapkeys.com/quick-start) and Tips (http://www.snapkeys.com/tips) which shows you how easily you can adjust/customize the transparency, size, and position of the keys.

        Just thought you need some useful tips and information. For the open minded, check out: http://www.snapkeys.com/world-with-snapkeys

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/eric-ravenscraft/ Eric Ravenscraft

          Okay, to start with, there is only one screenshot that was edited by me and it was clearly labeled as such. Everything else is completely unmodified. Furthermore, nowhere in my article did I complain about the utility of these hover menus (though they were pretty confusing) or imply that they were more complex than they are. I find it difficult to stomach the claim that I'm misleading my readers when the only reference to the appearance of the menus specifically states that it's a composite image.

          As for my comments about the "keyboard in action," I told another commenter that I showed my coworkers screenshots. This happens in internal chat rooms that our team uses. In that chat, I showed them completely unedited screenshots, and it's clear from my comment that I was talking about internal discussions. It's a pretty huge jump to claim that because one composite image exists, that I only showed my colleagues that one image, failed to show them any of the other shots, and misled them as well. And, once again, every other screenshot aside from the one composite image you take issue with is exactly the way the keyboard appeared as I used it.

          On the issue of transparency, I have now watched the Quick Start video five times and there is no mention of how to adjust the visibility of the keyboard anywhere within that video at all. At best, the video contains a link to the Tips area you have also linked to. In that page there is a video for how to adjust transparency, but it starts with "in the settings." No instructions on how to get there. As I mentioned in a reply to another commenter, I found the Settings myself, but when I got there, they were non-functional (which, admittedly, could be due to the beta nature of the product). Screenshot here: http://i.imgur.com/5LkBu.png As I mentioned in that comment, the only two options that work are the ones with sliders. Tapping on page 2, or any of the other options do nothing. I tried this on both my Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 7 (which, as you'll noticed from my screenshots, I used both devices to test this keyboard on the whole).

          Ultimately, though, while I can understand your frustration with my review, I stand by what I said. I have a duty to provide accurate and helpful recommendations to my readers and, even if this product had worked as advertised (or will work after the beta is finished), I simply cannot advise our readers to use an invisible keyboard that diverts so greatly from traditional QWERTY input. It's a specialist's tool at best and, in my professional opinion, this one is not even among the easiest to use among that category.

          I really do hope you're able to work out the issues with this software and, if there are ever any changes made, please let me know. You can email me at eric@androidpolice.com. I'll love to take a look at the next version of SwapKeys and give it a fair shot. But for this one, I have to stand by what I said.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      I tried it earlier in the day (in fact, I was the first one to try it), and I didn't like it right away. The contrast between the main area keys and the corner keys is so high that it's almost impossible for my brain to transition back and forth between them. I would have to put in a LOT of work into getting it to be remotely usable, and even then, I would still not let go of SwiftKey for one simple reason - its prediction is unparalleled.

      I absolutely love these new concept keyboards, and I love it when developers push the limits and think outside the box, but my fascination only goes as far as trying them out so far. I can never force myself to use any of them for more than a few hours.

  • Simon Belmont

    I think the only time I ever saw a virtual keyboard take up the entire screen was on an old BlackBerry Storm. I've never seen it happen on any of my Android phones or tablets.

    I've been in the Android game since late 2009/early 2010. But yeah, this keyboard looks pretty bad.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/eric-ravenscraft/ Eric Ravenscraft

      It happens far more often in landscape. Like this: http://i.imgur.com/XhS0M.png

      I don't normally do much typing while in landscape anyway, because it's just not comfortable for me, but if I did, this would annoy the heck out of me. Can't even see a single line. Perhaps the stock Android keyboard is different, but this is how Swiftkey handles it.

      • Simon Belmont

        Oh, I see what you mean now! I thought you meant the ENTIRE keyboard blocks the screen, including the text that was being written (which would just be stupid). But, what you meant, was being able to see the the app behind the virtual keyboard and the text being written. Gotcha.

        In your picture at least one can see the text being typed. I think the BlackBerry Storm I tried blocked even that with the keyboard (which, again, was stupid)!

  • jamaall

    Wouldn't it be a much better idea to just take the stock Android and make it invisible? And you would know that you are ready to type when the down carrot pops up in the on screen keys. That way, it doesn't take much memorizing. If you can't figure it out, just pull down the notifications and switch keyboard options back to normal. It would be fun to show off, and you get half of your screen back.

  • Anonomoose s

    oh hell no

  • Matthew Fry

    Did you mean 'idg.se?' Uhm no. 'You.'

  • Andrew

    Swiftkey should add an option for invisibility. Pretty sure with their prediction - and the fact that everyone knows roughly where a key is on the screen anyway - would make it perfectly useable.

  • Snapkeys

    Your "screenshot" that is misleading and
    edited by you, combines several real screenshots put together to make a complex
    and confusing image that does not and cannot exist in this technology. Your “screenshot”
    on the right (of a chat with Cameron Summers) is not the "keyboard in
    action" as you falsely state below in your comment as response to smeddy
    - you are clearly misleading your audience. After all, you state in your
    article (in very small print) "Composite screenshot of all three hidden
    menu (not all are visible at once).”

    As you have stated, this is a BETA launch - any
    helpful insights are welcome so that we can make Snapkeys Si work better for
    you and your audience. Insightful comments are always helpful.

    By the way, the time that you spent to compose the
    “screenshot” (on the right), probably took you much longer than to view
    Snapkeys Quick Start (http://www.snapkeys.com/quick-start) and Tips (http://www.snapkeys.com/tips) which
    shows you how easily you can adjust/customize the transparency, size, and position
    of the keys.

    Just thought you need some useful tips and
    information. For the open minded, check out: http://www.snapkeys.com/world-with-snapkeys

  • oseas215

    You should try MessagEase. That does work.

  • http://www.talltechtales.com/ Mattias

    I'm curious....

  • Jason

    Eric - For your transparency issue - Check it out
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxzYojr79ME&feature=player_embedded...

    Pretty easy, dont know why it is so hard for you to understand. Anyway
    there will always be people like you who do not see the innovation in
    technology, and see how this app can bring so many cool new apps like
    watching TV shows on your smartphone or tablet and typing, or playing games and typing trash to your
    friends at the sametime... These are some ideas that come to mind as i
    am using the SnapKeys app. All is good tho Eric, as you said let the
    users be the judge.

  • http://profiles.google.com/adamtruelove Adam Truelove

    Voice to text is faster and just as or more accurate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/susan.aroche.9 Susan Aroche

    Read my mind! Snapkeys Si does! Got my word right every time. Repeat after me...
    Snapkeys Si is the next best thing to apple pie! Easy and fast to learn. This keyboard will revolutionize the mobile industry!

  • http://twitter.com/uksceptic Martin

    I've been learning how to type for 20 years. Even if I learnt how to use this interface I can't see it being any quicker which is sort of the point isn't it? If it ain't broke...

  • TornZero

    I come to this article six months later, and I say, "Fleksy's doing a damn good job, and then some."

  • james

    Love it. But.. where'd it go. Not in playstore.