Perhaps Microsoft has really turned over a new leaf. It has lately been quite supportive of other platforms by bringing their software to iOS and Android, sometimes even on par with their native OS versions as well. Quite surprisingly, Microsoft recently updated OneNote to have support for Android Wear, probably not a technological miracle but a well-intentioned gesture nonetheless. Now it has an even bigger surprise, one that has literal gestures in it: an “analog” keyboard for Android Wear that doesn’t have keys.
Keyboards on smartwatches are a rather contentious topic. It’s technically possible and even somewhat usable when forced. Some third-party keyboard developers such as Minuum and Fleksy have tried to remain relevant in this new device form factor, but, as with any experience, your results may vary. Microsoft has decided to attack the problem from another angle by doing away with cramped keys and letting you write your way through text instead.
That’s right, you have to scribble every single letter in your text, whether it be for replying to a message or do a search. You can “type” out not just letters or numbers but even symbols with ease and speed. That is, depending on how fast you are at drawing letters in the first place. The whole keyboard naturally takes up the whole screen, with majority of the space dedicated to the area for writing, making it a larger target than a minuscule key. The keyboard most likely leverages Microsoft’s own handwriting keyboard on Windows 8, which actually isn’t all that bad. The keyboard is still in a prototyping stage, but, based on the video below, seems quite usable already. Howerver, it only supports square Android Wear devices with resolutions of 320×320 with a single exception. The Moto 360 is also supported but the installation is more involved since the smartwatch doesn’t have a USB port.
While slightly ingenious, Microsoft’s keyboard doesn’t exactly answer the question of whether keyboards on smartwatches are something that users should learn not to depend on at all. Google definitely doesn’t include it in its vision of Android Wear but has nicely left the door open for third parties to do as they please. At least for now. Considering how voice recognition, whether it be Google Now, Siri, or Cortana, aren’t exactly still completely reliable, it might be a long time before users stop feeling like they need a keyboard on their wrist for something more accurate, albeit uncomfortable.