By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
About a dozen handset suppliers, including Panasonic, have developed prototype cellular phones that incorporate Digit Wireless's Fastap text-entry technology, which provides one-handed, one-tap input of individual letters and punctuation to simplify text messaging.
Carriers around the world, including Canada and the United States, could begin offering Fastap handsets by the end of the year, the company claimed.
"Panasonic is the first working prototype that we're allowed to publicly name," said a spokeswoman, "We are working with about a dozen manufacturers worldwide and with four of the world's five largest carriers."
The technology, demonstrated in mockup form to TWICE in May 2001, surrounds a numeric dialing keypad with a one-key-per-character alphanumeric keypad. It's positioned as an easier-to-use successor to predictive text-entry technology and to QWERTY-keyboard add-ons.
Besides simplifying messaging, the technology will simplify address-book entry, scheduling and calendar entry, Web browsing and m-commerce, Digit Wireless said. "An appropriate data interface," the company claimed, "will increase both data revenue and the rate of adoption by 25 percent."
Fastap also delivers almost three times as many finger-size keys in the same space as a traditional dialing keypad, the company said.
Handsets currently use one of four types of text-entry technologies. One requires users to press the keys on a numeric dialing keypad from one to four times to enter the correct letter.
The second method uses predictive text entry, which combines a traditional dialing keypad with a dictionary database to predict the words that someone taps out. To tap out a single message containing letters, numbers and punctuation marks, however, users must switch between numeric, alphabet and punctuation modes. Predictive technologies, Fastap noted, are limited in their ability to predict proper names or industry jargon, forcing users to switch modes and tap a dialing key multiple times.
A third text-entry option is the add-on QWERTY keyboard, which requires the use of two hands. The fourth method, used in expensive PDA-phones, is handwriting recognition.
Fastap works like this: In lieu of a traditional 12-key dialing keypad, a Fastap keypad offers as many as 47 keys in slightly less space. Letters appear on small raised areas that surround larger concave areas, which are numbered like a traditional dialing keypad with the numbers 0-9 and the # and * signs.
Below the dialing keypad, additional concave areas are dedicated to punctuation marks or commands such as delete, shift and space. These concave areas are surrounded by raised areas bearing the remaining letters of the alphabet.
The letter keys, though small, would be spaced far enough away from one another so that users could press one letter key at a time without touching another letter key.
To select a number or punctuation mark, users push down on the concave area if their fingers are small enough. People with larger fingers depress the four surrounding letter keys, which correspond to a number or punctuation mark. Users don't have to press all four raised areas at once, however; they need only hit only two diagonal raised areas to enter a number.
The cost of materials for building a Fastap keypad into a phone is the same as building a traditional dialing keypad, the company said. It uses far less ROM than dictionary-based predictive software, which require 150K to store the dictionaries of three languages.
Digit Wireless partnered with Panasonic to add Fastap on a prototype basis to an existing GSM triband phone, the GD87. Canada's Telus Mobility said it plans to adopt Fastap.Advertised Wireless Phone Prices
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Source: Beyen ©TWICE 2003
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