Typing English on the tiny touch screen of a smartwatch is challenging enough, let alone Chinese characters. However, a small Belgian company is confident that they have come up with an ideal solution that would make smartwatch users in China happy.
The name of this startup, iBeezi, resembles the sound of "yibiyizi" or "one stroke one character" in Chinese, and that is exactly the concept of the new Chinese input method it developed.
With only six keys on its interface, the iBeezi input allows users to type even the trickiest character with only one stroke, which makes it perfect for smartwatches and other electronic devices with small touch screens.
"It's currently the only solution for writing Chinese on a smartwatch," CEO of iBeezi Alexis Van Gestel told Xinhua. "When the project started, smartwatches or wearables weren't even considered a serious device category. However, as time evolves we noticed how wearables in general became a global trend."
Van Gestel used to work in Hong Kong, and the company managed to raise funding from both Belgium and China for this innovative project. The first incorporation of the input on smartwatches was made successful in August.
The algorithm for the keyboard was designed by Pierre-Henry de Bruyn, co-founder and chief researcher of iBeezi, who used to be a Chinese teacher in France and had lived in China for almost 10 years.
De Bruyn said the original idea was purely to simplify the Chinese input for students. "For beginners, you have to memorise either the traditional stroke orders, or Pinyin, the phonetic forms, to be able to type a Chinese character, but with iBeezi it's simply one stroke, and the characters are located in fixed positions so it is easy to remember the paths."
So far the iBeezi input method has incorporated over 8,500 characters, according to de Bruyn, and the corpus is still expanding. At the moment, both free versions and paid professional versions of the input app can be downloaded for wearables as well as smartphones and tablets.
"We didn't want to engage lots of marketing efforts, because that requires a lot of funding and we are only a startup, but we are lucky that this market is a centralised one, meaning that only a very few number of manufacturers or brands serve almost 100 percent of the market," Van Gestel explained.
The two founders are quite optimistic about the market potential of iBeezi. In the near future they plan to partner with main manufacturers to make iBeezi a reference keyboard for wearable devices, and to incorporate more complex languages.