Some toughts regarding the Firefox OS Tablet Keyboard

:: mozilla, firefoxos, english

By: Andre Alves Garzia

In this brief article I will expose my impressions about the keyboard used in the current Firefox OS version used in tablets. Please be aware that these tablets are reference designs used to improve Firefox OS in tablet form factor. What we see and discuss here is not what the final product will be.

This article is for the benefit of the Tablet Contribution Program run by Mozilla. This project aims to improve Firefox OS for tablet usage. An initial run of reference designs were seeded to many contributors who are bringing back improvements.

Since we’re Mozilla, we do everything in the open and thats why this article is published here and not on some private walled garden.

The other players

First lets check the keyboards used in some other platforms — webOS, Android, iPad &mdash and how they compare in size with the Firefox OS keyboard.

In the photos below I will add some measurements. Please don’t take these pixel values as real values. The tablets were not positioned correctly for such measurements. They serve only as guidelines for us to think about the usability. If this type of study is useful then we can take proper screenshots and measure stuff with real values.

webOS tablet 10′’

webOS tablet keyboard with measures

webOS tablet keyboard with measures

The photo is a bit skewed but we can check that like most tablets the keyboard goes up to basically half of the screen. It has 51 keys on its default view including the following useful features:

  • Number row with symbols.
  • Keyboard dismiss key.
  • Tab key
  • Quick access key with .com and long press for .net, .org and others.

Android tablet 10′’ (running Android 4.1)

Android tablet keyboard with measures

Android tablet keyboard with measures

With 46 keys the Android keyboard is very similar to the previous one. It goes to basically the half of the screen just like everyone else and has the following useful features:

  • Keyboard dismiss key
  • Quick access key with .com and long press for .net, .org and others.

iPad

iPad keyboard with measures

iPad keyboard with measures

With 36 keys the iPad keyboard doesn’t have all those nice keys from the keyboards above but it has some cool usability features such as dragging up from the upper key row to make numbers (impossible to discover unless you know).

Firefox OS

Firefox OS keyboard with measures

Firefox OS keyboard with measures

With 32 keys the Firefox OS keyboard feels like an enlarged phone keyboard. It occupies basically the same space as the others but with larger keys. To make our keyboard more useful we could use some new keys such as:

  • A keyboard dismiss key. Right now dismissing the keyboard requires you to touch something else on the screen to move the focus out of the field.
  • Number row. We could use a number row on top or some clever way to input numbers.

Side by side photos

Below are some pictures of tablets next to each other so that we can better feel how they stack up.

Android and Firefox OS

Firefox OS and Android in portrait mode

Firefox OS and Android in portrait mode

iPad and Firefox OS

Firefox OS and Android in portrait mode

Firefox OS and Android in portrait mode

webOS and Firefox OS

Firefox OS and Android in portrait mode

Firefox OS and Android in portrait mode

Final words

My main point is that the keyboard can really make or break the experience of a tablet. I would like to see some more features on the Firefox OS keyboard such as:

  • number row
  • keyboard dismiss key
  • quick access to period, comma, at sign, .com, .net, .org.

I hope this article can foster some constructive talk about what we expect of our Firefox OS tablet keyboard.

The importance of being open

After posting this some friends at the TCP discourse forum posted the awesome work Raniere has been doing for the GSoC 2014. He added a math keyboard to Firefox OS. Check out his work here: Flatfish and (La)TeX — MINHAS ELOQUÊNCIAS @rgaiacs.com and Math keyboard for Firefox OS | Uno y uno = diez.

This type of development is only possible when we’re dealing with free and open source technologies where everyone can contribute. So what is the future you want? A future where a company dictates what you can do with your device or a future where each tablet owner can help advance the platform such as Raniere just did…

Comments? Questions? Feedback?

You can reach out to me on Twitter, or Mastodon, or Secure Scuttlebutt