Building a better keyboard on mobile is a gargantuan challenge. Heck, inputting complex messages to transmit to another human being across the ether using only your thumbs would have been totally unthinkable just a handful of years ago. Updating the tool we use to do it to make communication harder, better, faster, and stronger is no small potatoes.
The WRIO Keyboard team is one of our favorite contenders in the race to design the next generation of mobile keyboards. With the backing of a huge Kickstarter community, they’ve done deep research on how people communicate over mobile, and have put together a better keyboard “for fast, precise, intelligent writing.” Big keys optimized for thumbs plus smart gestures make all the difference, and there’s a special emphasis in catering to users who swap between more than one language.
WRIO is due onto the app stores this coming Spring 2016. While we wait for the big launch, we were lucky enough to score an interview with David Eberle, WRIO Keyboard developer. We talked crowdfunding, user testing, and those eye-catching double space keys.
Last week’s interview: Folmer Kelly, Dev Of Wrassling (Sets & Settings)
Appszoom: How was your experience of running a successful Kickstarter? How did you decide on the crowdfunding model in the first place?
David Eberle: We decided to go on Kickstarter for two reasons. First, we needed funding to continue with the development beyond a first prototype. Crowdfunding seemed a good place to do that.
Second, we wanted to see whether there was genuine interest from users in our product. We’ve realized that a Kickstarter campaign requires a lot of preparation and engagement during the campaign. What made the difference is that we received good media coverage, especially in Switzerland; that helped us get a lot of backers.
AZ: How did you recognize the need for a better keyboard?
DE: We have been interested in product usability since many years from different angles. In his previous job as a journalist for PCtipp, a former Swiss IDG magazine, Janis tested and reviewed hundreds of technology products. David works as a management consultant. We are both extreme writers of emails on mobile devices, and we are totally fed up with the usability. That’s when we thought that there had to be a better solution on modern touch devices.
Berny and I both work a lot remotely in our jobs, and therefore write a large chunks of our emails on the go. It’s always a big hassle. We felt it was extremely slow, we made a lot of typing errors, and the auto correction often makes changes to the worse.
One Sunday morning, Berny and I discussed the topic over Brunch (it was sometime in February, snowy outside, so what better to do than to discuss tech?), and he mentioned that the current keyboard was over 140 years old. I found that unacceptable, that nothing has really changed since, and we became convinced that there had to be a better solution.
To be sure though, we started our journey with the survey, where ~73% confirmed our experiences, plus gave us the inspiration of features we should implement first (e.g. large keys).
AZ: What kind of user testing have you done to create a better WRIO? Did you go through any other iterations of “a better keyboard” before settling on this one?
DE: It was really design question. Keys can either be square or round (if you discard triangles or any other unsuitable shape). Since fingertips are round, the optimal key shape for touch devices should be round as well. Technically this results in hexagons.
Another condition was that the keyboard doesn’t take up more space than the current one. Maximizing key sizes given these conditions resulted in WRIO.
We then thought what keys can be removed and replaced by gestures (shift, backspace, replacing the space bar by keys) to further save space and increase key sizes.
AZ: You’re bringing WRIO to both Android and iOS. What are the specific challenges you find with each platform?
DE: On Android development, this is pretty straightforward.
On iOS, there are certain restrictions that make development somewhat challenging, but so far we have found good solutions to develop WRIO (e.g. key shapes, input method change button).
AZ: The two space keys in the center of the keyboard are really eye-catching. How did you come up with those?
DE: As stated above, a bar doesn’t add any value over a key, since all the keys are easily reachable with the thumbs. The bar only takes away space that can be used to increase the size of all keys.
AZ: How much of a learning curve do you find users require to get the hang of WRIO?
DE: Since the actual characters are very close to QWERTY, it’s fairly simple to get started with WRIO. After about 5-10 minutes a user should get the hang of it.
As with any new movement or habit, there is a learning curve. To really type “with lightning speed”, a bit more time is required. It’s hard to say and really depends on the user and the time spent on WRIO every day.
Maybe after a week or two, the user should feel a significant boost in typing speed and accuracy. We’re working on features that should speed up onboarding (e.g. a speed trainer).
Keep users at the forefront: How To Design Mobile Apps With Your Audience In Mind
AZ: How do you plan on getting WRIO into the hands of people who are frustrated with their current keyboard? Who do you envision as your likely user base?
DE: Our aspiration is that WRIO is for everybody, both tech-savvy pioneers as well as mainstream users. Unlike alternatives, WRIO does not require skills that only a very tech-savvy person might be willing to learn.
WRIO will really have to prove during the Beta phase (which starts this week) that it’s significantly faster, works very well, and is easy to learn. Then, nothing stands in the way for widespread adoption.
AZ: What special issues do multi-lingual users face with their mobile keyboards? How does WRIO address these?
DE: According to what users told us, the biggest challenge is the requirement to switch between languages. More and more people write in different languages depending on the recipient (think Spanish and English, for example), and it’s a hassle to always change the language.
Apart from a few cases where completely different characters are required for the second language, the main reason for this switching is the auto correction which will wrongly correct the words of the other language. We believe we have found a way to get rid of language switching thanks to our smart auto correction technology.
AZ: What will WRIO’s business model be?
DE: We haven’t found a conclusive answer, but it will be somehow through paid or premium app features. The price will be very affordable for everybody.
AZ: What other apps have you been loving lately?
DE: Good question! My personal thoughts:
Office Lens is actually pretty cool; it allows to capture images of documents or flipcharts and automatically crops and rotates the scan. Simple but very time-saving.
Another great app is Vivino, a wine scanner that rapidly shows great information about any wine on the table or the winelist.
In the end it comes down to an app that offers substantial value for me to keep using it. Being just nice enough is okay to try it out, but not enough to keep using it.