Product Doc – Tap Wubi Input


Wubi 86 is the most widely known and used shape-based Input Method for full letter keyboards in Mainland China. In Chinese Wubi input system, all the Chinese characters are classified into 5 sections and each section has 5 blocks. The five sections are the horizontal stroke section(一), vertical stroke section(丨), left-falling stroke section(丿), right-falling stroke section(乀), and turning stroke section(乛), A Chinese character can be decomposed into one or more combinations of strokes so that the user can type the strokes on the keyboard and combine them to input Chinese characters.

For now, the most popular input system for Mandarin Chinese is Pinyin input which is based on the pronunciation of Chinese characters. The reason behind the popularity for it is people learn Pinyin since they are very young and it is just very simple to learn. However, the problem with Pinyin input is that for one single pronunciation there could be several characters, which means that the character for one specific pronunciation is not unique. But for Wubi, this encoding system has an extremely low duplication rate compared with Pinyin input. So it can be extremely fast and accurate at the same time.

Prototype Purpose

A major drawback to learning Wubi is its steeper learning curve since as a more complex system it takes longer to acquire as a skill. Memorization and practice are key factors for proficient usage. As you can see, this is the stroke mapping for Wubi input method is a hard mapping to the keyboard and the user has to memorize the whole mapping to even start typing.

Take key G as an example, it is the horizontal stroke section and horizontal stroke block, which has no connection to the meaning of G at all. So the users need to remember all the combination of the sections and blocks to start using the Wubi input which means the learning curve is very steep.

Since the Wubi input has nothing to do with the key meanings of the keyboard, why should we even bother using the keyboard? We can just find the combinations for the TAP device to locate all the five blocks and five sections. The scheme is much easier to remember than the keyboard typing.

Design Details

In the Wubi input, there need to be 25 blocks in total. So we just need to find 25 combinations. To make it easier to learn, we use two taps for each block. The first TAP will decide which section it is and the second TAP will decide which block it is.

With this scheme, the typing rules are much easier to remember.

Implementation Details

Wubi is a well established Chinese input method and the encoding library is open on the Internet so that it is pretty easy to implement a basic Wubi input method combined with Tap.

Lessons Learned

First of all, using Tap to do Wubi input is obviously easier to memorize than using a keyboard. It is quite natural to remember all the mappings. However, the truth is that it is much slower than input Wubi using a keyboard. By using a keyboard, you can type with two hands which is significantly faster than just using one hand.

But on a second thought, how about the users with only one hand? For this circumstance, Tap with Wubi becomes really ideal since it not only makes it possible for people with one hand to input but also gives them a way to input faster. It should also be noted that the Pinyin input method can be used by one hand. It is just much slower than using two hands and there is no much space for improvement.

Future Possibilities

One problem with Tap is that there is a 0.18-second latency which is quite noticeable when doing fast typing. Considering this is just the first generation of the device, the latency should be much better in the future.

And the bright side for this prototype is that it shows the potential that it is possible to make an input method for the disable people to let them input fast. We believe there will be more devices in the future focusing on this aspect.