Microsoft Research may have a solution for text input on small smartwatch screens, and it’s using Google’s Android Wear platform to test it out.
The company has developed an “Analog Keyboard” app for Android Wear, letting users string words together by drawing each letter on the screen. If you’ve enabled ADB for sideloading apps—that is, the same trick that lets you run Windows 95 on a smartwatch—you can download and install the keyboard from Microsoft’s Website.
Microsoft says its solution offers a few advantages over other potential text-input methods: Unlike a software keyboard, handwriting doesn’t require ultra-fine motor skills, and it even lets users write without looking at the screen. And compared to speech-to-text, handwriting is more discreet and less prone to background noise.
However, the current app has some limitations due to the computational load required. It currently can’t tell uppercase letters from lowercase ones, and it runs into problems with responsiveness. It also tends to be a battery hog. In the future, Microsoft hopes it can alleviate these issues by offloading some computation to a paired smartphone or to the cloud.
Why this matters: Even with Microsoft’s approach, the idea of writing an entire text message on a smartwatch seems kind of nightmarish. Still, the keyboard could be useful as an editing tool, letting users clean up any words that speech-to-text gets wrong. While there are no plans to release the keyboard as a finished product, with enough polish it might be a good fit for Microsoft’s existing OneNote Android Wear app.