Effects of Shape, Letter Arrangements, and Practice on Text Entry on a Virtual Keyboard
O'Brien, Marita A.
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This research study examined the design of a virtual keyboard that can be used for text entry with a rotary controller, particularly when users may differ in age and experience with a particular system. I specifically examined the shape and letter arrangement on the virtual keyboard to help determine the best features to use in a design. Two keyboard shapes, an Oval and a Plus, were selected to represent different aspects of the shape. Two keyboard arrangements, Alphabetic and a Standard QWERTY-based ordering, were selected to represent a well-known and less familiar arrangement. In the experiment, older and younger adults entered words over two consecutive days. Most of the time, they used either the Oval or the Plus, but they also used the alternate shape at specific points during their practice session to allow assessment of their ability to transfer what they had learned. At the end of the second day, they also used a variation of the practiced arrangement to examine how well they had learned the letter arrangement. Text entry performance on both shapes improved as a function of practice, demonstrating that participants could learn even unfamiliar devices and virtual keyboards to complete a word entry task. No overall shape effects were found for any level of performance, but shape did affect how participants learned and performed the word entry task. In particular, unique visual features on a shape may facilitate memorization of letter/visual cue mappings. These shape features are particularly important for older adults, as younger adults seem to develop a mental model that helps them memorize letter locations on either shape. With practice, older adults could achieve optimal performance levels with an Alphabetic keyboard on the Plus shape that has the more visually unique corners. In general, alphabetic ordering is best not only because it helped visual search, but also because it facilitated better movement planning. Overall, designers should consider creating unique visual features on a virtual keyboard that will blend with the compatibility and allowed movements for the selected device to create an effective virtual keyboard.