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Monday, 25 November, 2002, 14:05 GMT
Mobile keypad gets real
Prototype Fastap keypad, Digit Wireless
Fastap crams a lot of keys in a small space
It could soon be a lot easier to tap out messages and use websites via your mobile phone.

Next year could see the appearance of mobile phones that have a redesigned keypad that gives each letter and number its own key.

If widely adopted, the keypad could end the need for predictive text systems in phones and mean you no longer have to tap several times to write letters in text messages.

Digit Wireless, inventors of the novel keypad, have been showing off working prototypes of their gadget in an attempt to get operators and phone makers to adopt it.

Fast fingers

The Fastap keyboard was invented by David Levy, the former head of ergonomic design at Apple.

It gives each letter and number almost as much space as those on a computer keyboard.

The modified Panasonic GD87, Digit Wireless
Fastap added to this Panasonic phone
It crams 26 letters of the alphabet, the * and #, 10 numbers, plus a variety of other keys into the same space that most phones manage only to fit numerals and a couple of other keys.

Each letter sits on a raised bump and numbers are written by pressing the four letters surrounding them.

The extra buttons on the pad can be used to reach specific services or for defined functions such as starting a text message.

Before now Digit Wireless has only had mock-ups of the keypad itself to show to potential partners and investors.

However, under an arrangement with Panasonic, the company has put one of its keypads into a version of the GD87 camera phone.

Concept phone

Mike Midgen, European sales manager for Digit Wireless, stressed that the work with Panasonic did not mean that the electronics giant would be building production models.

"It is just a proof of concept," said Mr Midgen adding there was no commitment from Panasonic to go beyond evaluation.

He said it took only six weeks from first talks with Panasonic to producing the finished device which is a working GSM phone and a prototype.

The prototype still needs a bit of work, said Mr Midgen.

"The key mat feel is not quite right yet," he said, "it has a rubber keymat while production is likely to include plastic keys."

Now Digit Wireless is talking to handset makes about manufacturing phones with the Fastap keyboard built-in.

Mr Midgen said he expects to see them going on sale in 2003.

Mobile phone network operators keen to get customers spending money on data services are likely to find the keypad attractive.


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See also:

17 May 02 | Science/Nature
20 Oct 02 | Technology
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13 Nov 02 | Technology
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