Monday, February 22, 2010

DYI - Fitaly Keyboard for Android

A little departure from photography in this post to get a little 'geeky'. I've had my Android Nexus One phone for about a month now and I'm still loving it. One thing that I had to get use to coming from the blackberry is the N1's virtual keyboard. I'd like to be able to type quick messages out one handed using just my thumb to peck at the keyboard but a QWERTY keyboard is not suited for this. Back in my Palm OS days, I used a keyboard layout that was designed for a stylus, and transfers well to one finger typing. The layout is called FITALY and is based on grouping the most common keys in the center of the layout and the least used at the edges with the intent of minimizing the distance your finger has to travel to type out a message.

In looking at the Android marketplace, I found all sorts of alternative keyboards but no FITALY. The original makers of fitaly for the palm still have a webpage but no signs of plans for porting it to Android - So I decided to see how tough it'd be to write my own. After all, Android is supposed to be and open platform and Google gives you all the tools you need to get started writing apps - so let see...

As it turns out, it was amazingly simple, Google even had an example of a virtual QWERTY keyboard in their SDK. The keyboard layout is defined by a simple XML file. So without any programming, I got fitaly running over a lunch break. Now it's pretty basic, but after seeing what's involved I think I'll adapt the layout to one of the more elaborate soft keyboards that are open source projects to take advantage of the predictive text and user dictionary functions they provide. Maybe done by next lunch break?

Anyway, this little exercise cemented my love for the Android OS - I think its going to take over the small device market over the next couple years.

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