Yes, you read that correctly. Microsoft Research has released the prototype of it’s new keyboard for Android Wear which allows you to input text by drawing letters on the watch face. This is not the first time MS has released stuff of android and I am quite happy with this trend.
The idea of inputting text by drawing characters is not new. If you remember the Palm OS devices they had a keyboard call Graffiti which used a sort of shorthand of letting you input text. I used to love it and had it installed it on my Galaxy Nexus and used it quite often till it got replaced by the voice typing option on the Google Keyboard.
As touch screens are getting smaller, soft keyboards are getting harder to use. For example, on a 1.6” smart watch, a soft keyboard with 10 keys across has keys less than 1/8” (3mm) wide. Speech recognition can be a viable alternative, but unfortunately, speaking into your watch is not always appropriate or even possible (noisy environments).
With the Analog Keyboard Project we are exploring handwriting recognition for text input on small touch screens. Handwriting, unlike speech, is discreet and not prone to background noise. And unlike soft keyboards, where many keys have to share the small touch surface, handwriting methods can offer the entire screen (or most of it) for each symbol. This allows each letter to be entered rather comfortably, even on small devices. In fact, it has been shown that some handwriting systems can be used without even looking at the screen . Finally, handwriting interfaces require very little design changes to run on round displays, which are becoming increasingly popular.
Interestingly the developers decided to support lower-case alphabets instead of upper-case in this first release. I would have thought they would go the other way as it is easier to identify upper case letters for the most part than lower-case.
Please keep in mind that this is a prototype (Alpha) release so it possibly has a lot of bugs and is not production ready. Plus it can’t be installed on the watch from Google Play, it has to be side loaded and the process is a bit complicated so might not be the best option for non-tech savvy folks right now.