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13 January 2014

How you'll write emails on the tiny screen of a smartwatch

Kids of the near future could be writing term papers on these.

Imagine trying to compose an email on a keyboard just a tad bigger than a postage stamp. Nuance, whose technology powers speech-recognition systems like Apple's Siri, thinks it has this problem licked, and it doesn't involve voice recognition.

The key to typing emails on a tiny screen, says Peter Mahoney, chief marketing officer of Nuance, is the Swype keyboard, acquired by Nuance in in 2011 for $100 million.

Fat fingered mistyping is no problem on a Swype keyboard, at least in theory. Nuance Swype is an app for Android devices that modifies the keyboard so that it doesn't require tapping; instead, you slide your finger over the keys to trace out a word. (Apple has so far blocked developers from tweaking its mobile keyboard, though the determined can get around this.) It has spawned a bunch of imitators, including Google itself, and Swype-like typing is now a standard feature on later versions of Android.

On phones, swyping has its share of detractors. (Where you may miss one or two letters when tap-typing, Swype's word guesses tend to veer between eerily accurate and spectacularly wrong.) But Nuance thinks it's perfect for tiny screens where tapping the right letter is so much harder. You can [drag your finger across the keyboard] in a sloppy way and it uses some of our interpretive technology to figure out exactly what you meant, says Mahoney. In a small watch format it works really well, he adds.

We'll have to wait for review copies of smartwatches running Swype to find out whether that's true. If it is, Apple might have to think about relaxing its ideas about text input for its own smartwatch.

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