The science behind the Windows Phone keyboard

The science behind the Windows Phone keyboard

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You knew the Windows Phone on-screen keyboard was good—some reviewers even call it the best of any smartphone. But you probably didn’t know just how much brainpower went into it.

The keyboard was a collaboration between Windows Phone engineers and scientists at Microsoft Research, which today published an interesting feature story that details some of the behind-the-scenes work leading to its development. It's a fascinating read. To create the virtual keyboard, engineers and researchers drew on linguistics, machine learning, statistics—even data collected by a tool that eventually became a popular Windows Phone game, Text Text Revolution! You’ll never LOL the same way again.

Members of the Microsoft Research and Windows Phone 7 teams that collaborated to produce the virtual keyboard for Windows Phone 7 (from left): Asela Gunawardana, Itai Almog, Tim Paek, and Eric Badger.The typing patterns of an individual are collected by the game Text Text Revolution!

Itai Almog, pictured second from left, was the guy who led the development effort on the engineering side. He works just down the hall from me. In addition to its scientific smarts, the keyboard is also packed full of time-saving shortcuts. So I ran down a moment ago and asked Itai—who’s as friendly as he looks—for his own personal list of favorite typing tricks. Here’s what he sent me. You’ll find even more in this how-to article.

Itai’s 7 favorite keyboard tips for Windows Phone 7

    1. Type fast and trust the keyboard to correct you.

    2. Double-tap Space at the end of a sentence to add a period and capitalize the start of the next sentence.

    3. Tap & hold various keys to reveal hidden menus. The period key is especially handy.

    4. Boost your speed: Tap the Shift or Numbers/Symbols key, slide your finger to the character you want, and then release. Saves you a tap.

    5. In the suggestion bar, tap “+” to teach the phone a new word.

    6. To undo auto-correction: tap the word, then tap the first candidate (the original word) in the suggestion bar.

    7. Multilingual? Go to Settings>Keyboard to select other keyboard languages.

42 Comments
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  • I am from Azerbaijan, ive loved my windows phone but NO AZERBAIJANI keyboard!

    There are 7 extra umlauts in my language which phone not supports and I use UK keyboard which is not easy for me.

    Let me know plz If there are any solution for this

  • I own a Windows Phone for 2 days now and I'm very pleased and overall impressed with it. The things I especially like are, indeed, the keyboard and the overal ease of use (example: I tend to delete e-mails and such while on the road (mark / tag & delete) and so I suddenly got a pop up "You can do this quicker by clicking in front of the message". THAT is userfriendly without things "getting in my face").

    Multilingual: I guess it depends on the phone. I'm using a Samsung Omnia W myself (love it, upgraded from the Samsung Jet) and I currently use English & Dutch. Its ideal to be able to change the suggestions with a single click. As others also said: Settings -> keyboard and you should have everything available. To my understanding its something which all Windows Phones have.

    And I just answered my own question too :-)   I accidentily added a word to the suggestions database ("vriendil", which should be "vriendin" which is Dutch for "girlfriend") and was wondering how to get it out.

    I do hope you'll consider allowing us to remove individual words in the future but for now this worked for me: "Settings -> Keyboard -> Typing settings -> Reset suggestions".

    And thanks for the tips, I learned something new here although I already found out about holding keys. Yet didn't know I could hold shift too, VERY helpful!

  • Hi thanks for this great post. I just wasn't able to add words to the phone dictionary using "+" as you mentioned. There's no "+" on the suggestion bar when I type words unknown to the phone. What do I do wrong?

    Thanks

  • @MichaelStroh

    Any luck finding out why the HTC HD7 on T-Mobile has only English as language options under Settings -> Keyboard -> Language

    Thanks.

  • I have to apologise since I posted this comment elsewhere as well and then saw this post on the 'Keyboard'... I have two keyboard related issues.. hope someone can help..

    First.. The fact that it doesn't keep the numerical keyboard ON even after you press the space bar really SUCKS.. say I want to type #1,#2,#3 or even 1, 2, 3, etc... it keeps going back to the alphanumeric keyboard as soon as I press the space bar, so there is a lot of going back and forth involved. Why can't they keep it ON till you finished with the numbers part of the conversation and then let you go back Manually? I mean it's not a big deal to have to press the 'abcd' button now is it?! [Am I missing something here?]

    Secondly.. the I-bar that pops up when you press and hold so that you can move it to a certain word to edit it is TERRIBLE! the I-bar hovers two sentences above the word you want so you have to move your finger right down to the keyboard in order to get the I-bar down to where you want it. And even then it keeps jumping about all over the place... Why can't they make it hover with your finger so that it's right over the word you want?!

    Just these two for now, thank you :) .. Apart from this ... The keyboard is superb. Love the auto-correction!

  • Using Samsung Focus, I can't seem to get the + to add my own name (shortcut 5): Tom (Odd, that the suggestions include Tim but not Tom to begin with. The = appears to be inconsistent. Sometimes it shows up with a 3-character word, other times, not.

  • @ KindaFarty – In order to see the “+” sign, you need to first type the new word you want to save, then select the word (as when you want to copy), at this point, the “+” sign will pop up on the far left side of the suggestion bar, and all you have left to do is tap on it… Voila!

  • I'm not seeing  a "+" in my suggestion bar when typing.  I'd like to add words to the phone's dictionary.  Any thoughts?  Samsung Focus, updated to ver. 7390

    Thanks

  • Great tips! Love #4.  Keep up the great work!!!

  • Great tips! Love #4.  Kepp up the great work!!!

  • TedS
    1 Posts

    Just a suggestion - can you get auto-correct to include row offset errors. For example, if I type in "message", but accidentally type in ".essage" (because '.' is one row off from 'm'), the auto-suggest should be smart enough to figure it out.

  • @ cyrano – Like you, I am a multilingual user BUT as opposed to you, I don’t have a multilingual package for my keyboard on my HTC Arrive –I can only select English.  Why? I have no idea! Perhaps Michael Stroh can help me on this…  BTW, good suggestion about having the ability to assign a keyboard language to a contact person.  Did you hear that Michael?

  • cyrano
    1 Posts

    @Jackleung I'm a multilingual user (english french and spanish) I have 3 language keyboards installed on my phone. When typing I can easily select the language to use from the keyboard itself. No need to go back to the settings! There is a selection key just beside the space bar.

    My only wish for improvement, as multilingual user, would be for WP7 to allow me to assign a preferred langage to some of my contacts. Then when I text my parents the keyboard recognizes it and switch to french but for some of my friends it should switch to english or spanish. If the contact is not know then the default should be used and I can changed it myself.

  • TroySch
    5 Posts

    You know I honestly thought I'd miss my Swype keyboard... but nope. The WP7 k'board ROCKS. I've enjoyed using it, and I've quietly had a chuckle about the inconsistencies of some other OS phones (cough-iphone-cough).

    I truly like the period key hold to get other useful symbols (as well as the other keys that do the same thing.)

    I'd Love to see an update to include a similar operation using the comma key to reveal the ' @ # % & _ ' Now That would be AWESOME! I use these a lot, and to have a shortcut instead of dropping to the iteration of keyboard would speed my typing up.

    Well done team!! Seriously - well done!

  • Loving the keyboard - I can literally type and not look at my fingers hitting the keys - auto correct rules.  WP7 to the competition in keyboard (as of today): WP7 owns!  One bit of feedback, my passwords, usernames, and in some of my texts and emails I end up having to type a lot of integers and alpha characters in the same word or in the same sentence - putting a shortcut in on the alpha keyboard that will bring up 0-9 would be AWESOME :)

    Keep up the great work and keep up the transparency - as a Focus v1.4 owner I'm looking forward to having the kinks ironed out of this update process so the next round can be that much smoother.

  • Sheeds
    205 Posts

    Michael,

    Can you please ask the keyboard guys for the Mango update to add a press and hold the R/r key to get ® and a press and hold T/t to get ™ .  That would be awesome for us working with brands and trademarks!  Thanks :)

    Sheeds.

    www.sheeds.com.au

  • Yep, the following keys on the keyboard have hidden menus. You'll find accents, math symbols, currency symbols, and more. Tap & hold: a, c, e, i, m, n, o, s, u, y, 1, 2, 3, 0, .com, period, ', ", ?, -, (, ), %, $, !, <, >, ^, +, =, |

    In the near future, I'll bring Itai back to have him talk about how he's made the keyboard even smarter in Mango. Stay tuned.

  • My iPhone friends always watch with envy...

    I was impressed to see accents and stuff, and multiple punctuation symbols without changing to the number screen

    ...the '.com' would be cool if I could get .ca

    Two things more cool tips like that, and more cool stuff in general!

    Wow I love windows phone...

  • Well, these tricks are cool and helpful! But what puzzled me so much is why there is still no Chinese language support for Windows Phone. I showed my Dell Venue Pro to lots of Chinese friend and they are all amazed by the cool UI it has, and disappointed by the lack of Chinese language support.

  • I didn't know you could teach the phone a new word by tapping "+". This was an excellent and very informative post. Thank you.

  • King
    32 Posts

    Awesome! i knew all but the tap then slide, and the double space for period. those are super helpful.

  • I like the on-screen keyboard on WP as well even though i use the slide out kb on my LG Quantum 95% of the time. The only thing i would like to see added is a small vibration instead of just "click" sounds everytime a key is pressed.

  • jackleung
    13 Posts

    "the least thing you want is go to the settings to switch the language after every message you type. It's even worse when you write with other multilinguals and want to mix languages in one message. "  Exactly, I really hopes WP team would comes up with an handy switching mechanism within the same message.  Currently mechanism in Android by holding the finger in the textbox is OK with me but maybe MS could comes up with something better.

  • Keep these tips coming.  They are quite helpful and I would be unlikely to stumble across them.

  • Krush You
    94 Posts

    @buckeye - I am using a Samsung Focus on At&t and I have the following languages available

    french (Canada) french (france) french(switzerland) german (Germany) Italian (Italy) Spanish (spain -International Sort)

  • @ tsrblke - You are right! I was able to do it just as you said it.  Thanks for the tip!

  • tsrblke
    327 Posts

    @BuckeyeTico

    Oddly the + Only shows up when I tap the word after I'm done typing it.

  • @ arrow22 – I was originally thinking that the limitation to only have US English for my keyboard on my HTC Arrive was entirely related to my market, but based on what you are saying, our best friends – the carriers are responsible for this shortcoming.

    Can other users on other markets tell us what language packages are installed on their WP7s?

  • Expat
    3 Posts

    Hmmm. I have all my updates but some of these don't appear for me, such as the '+' to add a word to the dictionary.

  • Love it when you guys chime in with your own favorite tips!

    re: multilingual settings: I see options for French, German, Italian, and Spanish (and English, natch). Let me ask Itai if there's anything else at play.

    I'm away for a few days guys, see you when I get back next week!

  • arrow22
    50 Posts

    "7. Multilingual? Go to Settings>Keyboard to select other keyboard languages."

    I'm multilingual, and I am unable to select anything other than United States English. T-Mobile HD7. Microsoft, please enable the independent installation of language packs. It's insane that this was allowed to happen.

    @jonemo, @BuckeyeTico,

    If carriers hadn't restricted the keyboard language selections, we would be able to select multiple languages from the settings page which enables a button on the keyboard to quickly switch language in a single tap. Unfortunately, many carriers have, for whatever reason, restricted the settings to a single language.

    This needs to change.

  • @ jonemo – I feel your pain… It’s indeed annoying when I try to text someone in another language, and the keyboard almost always corrects me.  What I do now is tap the corrected word and select the first word on the suggestion bar (which actually is the word I intended to type in the first place).  My old phone running WM 6.0 used to handle multilingual messages.

    @ Michael Stroh and everyone else – Again, I can’t help to believe that Itai’s phone is already running Mango, because some of the keyboard tips for WP7 are not available on my HTC Arrive from Sprint, for example:

    5. In the suggestion bar, tap “+” to teach the phone a new word. (I don’t see the “+” sign anywhere on the suggestion bar).

    7. Multilingual? Go to Settings>Keyboard to select other keyboard languages.  (English is the only available language.  Is this because I am in the US market?).

  • Krush You
    94 Posts

    @jon - So what you are saying is Android does the exact same thing as Windows Phone for the keyboard but needs an app in order to do it? This is just the native keyboard - when they get the new apis these apps can exist on windows phone as well. Wouldn't really call it a point as typing in multiple languages doesn't seem like a feature millions need...

  • jonemo
    7 Posts

    "Multilingual? Go to Settings>Keyboard to select other keyboard languages."

    Actually quite an inconvenience. If you are multilingual, the least thing you want is go to the settings to switch the language after every message you type. It's even worse when you write with other multilinguals and want to mix languages in one message. I do it all the time and WindowsPhone always tries "correcting" the second language - very annoying!

    On Android there are apps to support using multiple dictionaries at the same time, on WindowsPhone you're out of luck. Another point for Android.

  • @ Michael Stroh – I went to check the Settings > Keyboard to see what other languages were available, but I only see English on my HTC Arrive from Sprint.  I am going to guess that Itai’s phone already has Mango installed (to be able to select other/multiple languages).  If not, please elaborate on this.  BTW, although I feel that what you can say is strictly monitored by M$ Secret Service, I commend you for being the ONLY one who takes the time to answer (or address) most of our questions (and bitching).  It shows that you really care about us, end users and the most valuable asset.  I appreciate it!

  • Mantvydas
    15 Posts

    It's most probably English language, that needs period so often, that double space puts a dot. In our language commas are like three times more often met than a period (there are sentences with three commas inside). I wish double space put a comma instead of a period.

  • Bob
    9 Posts

    Nice.  I always have non-WP7 users try the keyboard and they are always impressed.

    The tap&slide is one time saver I didn't know about and will get used a lot from now on.  I was always amazed how fast I could type and accurate the outcome would be.  Kudos to the keyboard team.  :)

  • Thanks for these tips and tricks :)

    And let's not forget the left arrow to view the second page of symbols and smiles. But also Tap&Hold Shift to lock it.

  • more tips post like this one would be great thanks

  • 8. You can slide the suggestion bar to get more suggestions

    9. Tap the back key to close the keyboard

  • Sheeds
    205 Posts

    WOW great post.  Didn't know most of those tips - definite time savers.  Thanks :D

  • Cool stuff. I like posts like this!