Mobile computing set to get "keyless keyboard"

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli startup has launched a system that aims to make mobile computing easier by letting users type on invisible keys instead of a keyboard that typically takes up much of the screen.

SnapKeys calls its technology the “keyless keyboard” and has forged a deal with Philips Electronics to market the product, company officials said.

SnapKeys and Philips will split revenue 50-50.

“There is a fundamental problem in entering data on mobile devices,” SnapKeys Chief Executive Benjamin Ghassabian told Reuters. “Keyboards were meant for fixed devices, not mobile. And screens are not supposed to be your input device; they are supposed to be output.”

He said the keyless keyboard was 10 years in the making.

The success of Apple’s iPad -- which Ghassabian says is more entertainment than computer -- shows that people want more portable devices. Around 40 companies seek to market tablet computers, he said.

“The market is moving toward mobile computers -- that’s why tablets are coming out,” Ghassabian said.

SnapKeys, privately funded with $4 million, and Philips have started approaching the top mobile device and computer companies about using its keyless keyboard.

“We are in the phase of closing deals ... It will take a few months to get to the market,” Ghassabian said, adding the system works on all Windows, Symbian and Android-based devices.

The keyboard has four invisible keys -- two on each side of the device’s screen -- each comprising six to seven letters. There are other keys for numbers, punctuation and symbols.

At first, the location of the keys appears on the screen but the company believes users will quickly learn the location of letters and will not need the overlay for long. Users tap the invisible keys with their thumbs and the system predicts the words.

SnapKeys says its English version has about 100,000 words and is 92 percent accurate. If the word isn’t correct, it can be changed.

Ghassabian said the system, in which typing words is far faster than a typical keyboard, is available in all European languages as well as Chinese. An Indian version is in the works.

“The only competition for us will be voice recognition and that’s not working well yet in mobile devices,” Ghassabian said, noting it was not as discreet as typing.

He rejected the notion that people will not want to change their typing habits from a keyboard that has been around for a century.

“People used to have horses but when cars came out, not everyone wanted to switch to cars. But when they started driving cars, they didn’t want to go back to riding horses,” he said.

Editing by Michael Shields