More than a few Android users have fallen in love with the alternate keyboard Swype as a way to make text input on a touchscreen just a bit easier, and now Swype's co-founder is hoping to revitalize the keyboard yet again — this time, on tablets. "Even though you can swipe on a tablet, it will max out at about 40–45 words a minute," Swype co-founder Randy Marsden tells The Verge. "I can type faster than that. Most people can." Through a separate company, Marsden is now working on a keyboard called Dryft, which — as the name suggests — will drift around the screen if your fingers become slightly misplaced.
A promised 80 words per minute on a touchscreen
Marsden's goal is the same: to make typing on a flat, glass keyboard a little bit more comfortable. Since there's no physical way for users to know where their fingers actually are on a tablet's keyboard, typing has never been the smoothest process. Marsden's solution for the bigger screen is to just move the keyboard around to wherever a user seems to think it's located. This, he says, will allow people to type at over 80 words per minute — a speed that rivals typing on a physical keyboard.
In its current incarnation, the keyboard's home row will appear directly under a user's fingers when they place all eight of them down on the keyboard at once, just like they were getting ready to type. Though it isn't available to use just yet, a closed beta is scheduled for early next year with a likely commercial launch sometime in the first half of 2014. Dryft's first public demo was on Monday, at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco.
When it does launch, don't expect to pick up Dryft in an app store. Like Swype, Marsden intends to have the keyboard come bundled with hardware. While that may in part be a way to handle monetizing the keyboard without requiring users to directly pay for it, it may also be a technical necessity. "The device has to have a certain fidelity of hardware in order for [Dryft] to work," Marsden says.
Dryft isn't headed to an app store
Both a device's touchscreen and accelerometer have to be sensitive enough to allow Dryft to detect the subtle movements of each finger. That may not seem like a lofty requirement, but Marsden says until recently most tablets didn't meet it. "The tablets that are shipping right now meet those minimum standards that we have, but as little as earlier this year, the tablets shipping didn’t." He's already begun talking to partners about having the new keyboard come bundled.
Unlikely enough, the broader technology for Dryft comes out of work that Marsden has done for dentists. Dryft has been spun off from the company Cleankeys, which manufacturers flat keyboards covered in Gorilla Glass — a description not unlike the surface of a tablet — meant for hygienic environments. While Apple and others may be toying with voice as the input of the future, Marsden thinks flat-surfaced keyboards will only stick around — and someone will have to make a good way to type on them.