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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Mobile keypad reinvented
Close-up of the Fastap keypad, Digit Wireless
Now you can send even more text messages
If you are frustrated by the time it takes to tap out text messages on your mobile phone, help could soon be at hand.

Interfaces are an unappreciated piece of the technology puzzle

David Levy, Fastap inventor
A US company has redesigned the traditional 12-number keypad to give every letter and number its own key.

Typing a text message with the novel keypad is twice as fast as other methods claims Digit Wireless, creator of the new layout.

The design fits 26 letters of the alphabet, the * and #, 10 numbers, three punctuation keys, a space bar, shift and delete key into an area no larger than one-third of a business card.

Apple influence

The letters sit on raised bumps between the rounded number and punctuation keys.

Although the letter bumps are individually small because they sit between the larger number keys, there is enough room to ensure that pressing one does not accidentally include another.

Mobile phone keypad, BBC
Out with the old?
Digit Wireless founder David Levy said the vertical and horizontal separation meant that the area available for each key was almost the same as on a standard computer keyboard.

Numbers are typed by pressing the four letter keys surrounding each numeral.

Although many phones try to speed up message writing with software that predicts the word being written, Digit Wireless claims Fastap is even quicker.

Before setting up Digit Wireless Mr Levy was head of ergonomic design at Apple for five years and was influential in the layout of its Powerbook laptops.

First models

He said Fastap was drawn up keeping Apple's design methodology in mind.

"We designed it to meet user expectations," Mr Levy told BBC News Online. "We don't expect the user to change what they do to use it."

He said that the traditional 12-button keypad had been in use for 50 years and was showing its age.

"It's old, tired and a barrier to use," he said. "Interfaces are an unappreciated piece of the technology puzzle."

The Fastap keypad is expected to be popular with mobile network operators who are keen to encourage customers to spend more on data services such as picture messaging.

The first handsets that use Fastap should be available by the end of the year from US phone maker Futurecom Global.

Instant tap

Mr Levy said Digit Wireless was talking to other handset makers and expected to see Fastap used in several phones released in 2003.

The keypad is built into handsets during manufacture and was unlikely to be a facelift for existing phones.

Digit Wireless has also developed a version for Japan that allows the keyboard to represent the 120 characters of the country's languages.

Mr Levy said it reduced the number of taps needed to form Japanese characters from eight to two. Now, Digit Wireless is working on a keyboard for Chinese.

Sending messages by phone shows no sign of losing its appeal. A study released this week by Forrester Research predicts that Europeans will be sending 17 billion messages per month by 2007.

While many of these will be the old-fashioned text message, Forrester predicts that new message types that let people include images and sounds will also gather fans.

It also said that e-mail and instant messaging would prove popular when phones could handle these services.

See also:

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Can a text message save democracy?
15 Apr 02 | UK
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25 Mar 02 | dot life
Mystery of missing text messages
08 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
Deaf go mobile phone crazy
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