User interface design is something that only a handful of companies really take seriously, and it looks like startup Whirlscape is one that’s shooting to join that crowd with Minuum, its solution to digital keyboards.
Minuum, a reinvented digital keyboard that does away with standard conventions and maximizes efficiency, has stormed the crowdfunding scene recently and raised more than $50,000 — over five times the campaign’s original goal.
Whirlscape wants to eliminate all that wasted space on our mobile devices and incorporate a keyboard solution that isn’t designed based on old standards. Mimuum pulls the traditional qwerty keyboard into a single bar that can be scaled for use in multiple devices and incorporates a specialized auto-correction algorithm that recognizes common errors and enables high precision typing.
Part of what really sets Minuum apart from the rest isn’t just its design though, the technology can be extended across multiple devices from, smartphones and tablets, to smartwatches, game controllers, and really just about anything that uses a keyboard for input.
Whirlscape is developing Android and iOS software development kits (SDKs) so that developers can incorporate Minuum into their own applications. The company is also developing a unique wearable development kit so that the technology can be integrated into ordinary, everyday objects.
Initially, Minuum will be available via the Google Play Store as, according to the company’s website, “Google Android … provides the most popular ecosystem that allows alternative virtual keyboards.”
Will Walmsley, Whirlscape co-founder and CEO, said, “All of the different kinds of techniques people have been working on are really focused on touch screens, and everyone is starting to build swipe into their different kinds of keyboards … I think the future of small devices is not going to be limited to touchscreen things. Given that we have devices that are as smart as they are, thinking beyond the touchscreen just makes a lot of sense.”
At the moment, Whirlscape is setting its sights on having the Minuum Android and iOS software ready for market at the beginning of 2014. The company also has plans for a hardware SDK that may be available sometime after its official software debut.
The company has already received some seed capital from the University of Toronto’s early stage accelerator program and MaRS Innovation, a venture capital group based in Toronto, ON.
Minuum’s Indiegogo campaign was wholly meant to raise an additional $10,000 for development support and establish a direct relationship with consumers, while creating buzz and identifying individuals interested in participating in early private beta testing.
Whirlscape does plan to work directly with OEMs in the future, but for now they’re focused on demonstrating the flexibility and functionality of Minuum.
I recently interviewed Mr. Walmsley about Whirlscape and its development of Minuum, here’s what he had to say:
Q: How did you get started with design? What motivated you to develop this and other products?
A: With a primarily engineering and science background, most of my experience with design comes from the creation of scientific illustrations. In graduate school, I focused my engineering efforts on topics closer to human-computer interaction and human factors engineering. Such topics involved careful research into understanding the nature of human perception, and how to present information in ways that maximally benefit the user. The Minuum keyboard project stems from research at the University of Toronto into alternate methods of typing, with our initial project focusing on typing using only hand/wrist movement as detected by a motion sensor in a handheld phone.
Q: How did Whirlscape begin?
A: Whirlscape began when my team and I realized that the core technology behind our radical new typing techniques could allow for a much broader range of typing techniques, including minimized typing on touchscreen devices. We formed Whirlscape as a company to continue the development of our one-dimensional keyboard technologies in various forms.
Q: What’s the long-term plan for Minuum? Have you developed partnerships with anyone yet?
A: We are currently discussing partnerships with a wide range of organizations, with our long-term goal being to not just simplify touchscreen typing, but to enable entirely new form factors of mobile devices. That’s where our future partners come in – we intend to remain a software company, and though we’ll continue to prototype new hardware devices, we recognize that we can have a much greater reach by empowering everyone else to create all different kinds of hardware, while we focus on making the underlying typing technology the best that it can be … The key to our current development efforts is that we’re working towards a project, not a product. When we release our wearable development kit (WDK), we’ll be enabling an unlimited number of products, each revolutionary in its own right, and we’re enabling the whole world to create those products with us.
Q: What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
A: The original work that went into the Minuum project didn’t seem like a game-changing way to type until we were quite far along – I only pursued this project because I enjoyed all of the research, design, and engineering that went into every aspect of it. You never know what will spin out of the work that you do, and so my primary advice would be to just make sure to have fun along the way. If you’re enjoying it, chances are that someone else will, too – eventually.
“the future of small devices is not going to be limited to touchscreen things.”
So is Minuum the future of the mobile keyboard? Is this something we could expect in the next-generation iPhone? Let us know what you think in the comments below.