Stringboard Technologies is developing The Stringboard (丝盘), a new gesture-based input system for the Chinese language, that helps learners and speakers gain calligraphic confidence.
With over 50,000 unique characters, the Chinese language is not meant to be typed. The most common method today involves typing ‘pinyin’, the phonetic romanisation of characters, on a QWERTY keyboard and selecting the correct character from a list of options (for example, ‘Ni Hao’ is typed to get ‘你 好’). Other methods like voice messaging, handwriting and other keyboard-based systems are either slow, inaccurate, or hard to learn. An over reliance on pinyin input also means speakers are forgetting how to write their native language, as they are able to enter characters without knowing how to write them.
The earliest typewriters, which evolved into modern keyboards, were inspired by piano keys. This led founder, Ning Loh, to ask why don’t we use strings instead? The Stringboard interface is based on the guqin, an ancient Chinese stringed instrument. A patent-pending system, it consists of a set of virtual ‘strings’ on a touch-sensitive surface. Each of the fundamental strokes in Chinese calligraphy is assigned a string and gesture direction (up/down/left/right). To enter a stroke, the user either ‘plucks’ or ‘slides’ across a string. Like playing a chord, multiple strokes can also be entered simultaneously to build up a character.
Combined with autocomplete, characters can be entered quickly and accurately whilst retaining calligraphic knowledge. Because Chinese is a homophonic language, meaning that it has lots of different words that sound the same, the Stringboard is better suited to professional word processing that requires specific jargon. In pinyin input, the user would have to scroll through many suggested matches to find rare characters.
The Stringboard can also be used to practice writing characters. While handwriting and typing Chinese are currently two separate skills, the Stringboard combines both in one system.
Stringboard Technologies was founded by Ning Loh, a 2021 graduate from the RCA’s MA Architecture programme.