The Björn Jawerth Memorial Site

News and Observer – August 19, 2012

“New Technology lets squiggles replace typing” – Kerstin Nordstrom

August 19, 2012

5 examples, a Cary company, swears that its squiggle technology is better, faster than tiny typing.

As anyone with a smartphone knows, it’s a pain to type on those small screens.

But a Cary company called 5 examples is trying to solve this problem. Their method is to throw away the keyboard completely, and replace it with their Tio Squiggle technology, which relies on wavelets, or mathematical ripples.

The technology was developed by Björn Jawerth, CEO of 5 examples and a professor of mathematics and computer science at the University of South Carolina.

“I realized these math solutions could be used (practically),” Jawerth said. That revelation led to his first software company, Summus. The Raleigh-based startup produced applications for distributing rich media content over wireless Internet devices.

Wavelets are now common in data and image processing and compression (they’re the basis for JPEG images sent by email). Jawerth started 5 examples in 2004, after leaving Summus.

Squiggle is a bit like cursive writing. You squiggle your finger over the screen to create a word, when you lift up your finger the word ends.

Swype, a keyboard native to many Android devices, uses a similar tracing technique. But with Swype, you trace the word on a two dimensional keyboard, which eats up about half of the usable screen space.

Squiggle just requires a line, and so frees the screen for other stuff.

The line is divided into 10 regions with ticks, like on a ruler. Each space between ticks is mapped to three letters or punctuation symbols. Each time your finger crosses the line the possible letters are registered. When your finger lifts, the predictive software displays the word you wanted to spell.

This method, once mastered, can be faster than touch-typing on a keyboard. And fingers can actually do this type of active tracing more accurately than cherry-picking letters on a screen.

5 examples is not alone in this market. Other companies are working on sensors that can track finger motion inches or even feet away from the screen. Your finger will become your mouse, and you might “type” words, magic wand-style, with a Squiggle-like technology.

New voice recognition technologies, like Siri in the Apple iPhone, seem primed to replace typing in our digital lives. But while voice recognition technology is improving, it probably won’t ever replace typing. For one thing, we often type and talk simultaneously, and we like this ability to multitask.

But there are even more fundamental reasons. “Sound is linear in nature,” said Jawerth. “Things like cut-and-paste are very difficult using voice recognition.”

5 examples is currently shopping the Tio Squiggle technology to major companies. But if you have an Android device, you can try out the Tio Keyboard app through the Google Play store.


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