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Written April 18, 1988


The MENKY is a MENu-KeYboard combination.  It uses only 25 keys and a spacebar to perform all the functions of a regular computer keyboard that is several times as large.

The compact MENKY takes up less desktop space and can be integrated into miniaturized portable computers.  And it can be operated by only one hand.  We suggest that if you're right-handed, you learn to operate the MENKY with your left hand so that your right hand can be free to shuffle papers or whatever.

The only disadvantage is that with fewer keys, it might take three or four separate keystrokes to accomplish what would be a single keystroke on a larger keyboard.  But with practice, you'll find that this restriction doesn't slow you down significantly, since all the keys you need lie right under the fingertips of one hand.

Let's look at the MENKY.  As on a normal keyboard, the bar at the bottom is the spacebar.  To its right is the Enter key.  These keys keep their normal functions at all times.

But the other 24 keys have LCD readouts built into their keytops, because their functions can change.  The LCD's let you know the current status of the keyboard.  Individual keys are always labeled with their proper functions.

The two blue keys let you choose the mode, either Text or Command.  The three green keys let you choose the case, either Upper or Lower or Symbol.  The three red keys let you choose the group, either X or Y or Z.  And the gold key lets you choose the Alternate character set.

When the MENKY is first powered up, the LCD keys will look like this.

The defaults are Text mode, Upper case, and X group.  Therefore, of the color keys, T and U and X are "lit up" in black.

The three middle rows of letters are available for you to type.  These 15 letters happen to be, according to most counts, the 15 most common letters in English.

What happens if you want to type one of the other 11 letters?  First press the gold key; the "A" on it lights up.  Now the MENKY looks like this.  An Alternate set of letters, including four punctuation marks, has appeared.

After you've typed one of these letters or pressed the gold key again, the middle rows will revert to the primary set of letters (CDHLM, etc.)

It's only necessary to press the gold key before each uncommon letter or punctuation mark.  The 15 most common letters can be entered with single keystrokes.  As an example, the first sentence of this paragraph contains 90 characters.  To type it with the MENKY requires just 100 keystrokes, where represents the gold key:


However, this is all in capital letters because we're still in the default Upper case.  We can fix that with one additional keystroke, following the first character of the sentence.

Press the middle green key.  The "L" lights up for Lower case, and the MENKY looks like this.

If you were to press the gold key now, you'd see the remaining 11 Lower-case letters, plus the same four punctuation marks that you had in Upper case.

Once you've learned to touch-type text, this one-handed system should be very efficient, requiring only about 10% more keystrokes than the traditional two-handed method.

The third green case key is marked "S," for Symbols.  It gives you this menu of choices:  the numbers, plus a few punctuation marks.  The arrow is the Backspace.

Note that the hyphen and period from the Alternate Upper and Alternate Lower cases are here as well, to serve as a minus sign and a decimal point if you're entering a series of numbers.  This case was designed that way to reduce the number of keystrokes you'll need.

Additional punctuation marks are in the Alternate Symbol case, as you see here.

And there are still more inside the MENKY.

Until now, we've been in the X group, represented by the first red key.

Press the second red key to enter the Y group, where you'll find some additional symbols.  And it goes on and on.

The actual symbols you'll find in the Y and Z groups may vary according to the model of your computer (and printer).  See your manuals for what's available.

Returning from the Symbol case to the Upper and Lower cases, you'll find that the Y and Z groups contain accented letters, Greek letters, and so on.  Again, refer to your manuals for full details.

Counting the duplications of punctuation marks, each of the three groups contains 30 characters in Upper case, 26 new characters in Lower case, and 28 new characters in Symbol case.  So using all three groups, 252 characters are available to you.

Until now, we've merely been typing characters in the Text mode.  Now let's shift to the Command mode by pressing the other blue key, the one marked "C."

First note that as soon as we change modes, the case reverts to Upper and the group reverts to X.

Here we find 15 commands.  Many of these happen to relate to moving a cursor around the screen; their actual functions are spelled out in detail in your computer manual.  Many more commands are available by using the gold key or the various cases.

Group Y and Z commands are also available (90 per group).  These are defined by the particular software that you're running.  So if you're using a spreadsheet, to recalculate a column you might want to go to Command mode, Upper case, Y group, and then press a certain key.

2004 Update

Sixteen years after I wrote the above description, I discovered that a one-handed keyboard based on the concept of the 15 most-used letters was actually being manufactured!

Named the FrogPad, it measured about 5½ by 3¾ inches.

In 1994, a Japanese-English comic book translator, Kenzo Tsubai (left), was trying to type with one hand while holding copy in the other.  This led him to sketch a one-handed keyboard, more than six years after I had done the same.

But in Tsubai's case, his wife knew a Houston businesswoman who helped him test and develop and market the product.  Its design is, of course, much more sophisticated and complete than my initial idea.  From the company's website:

The FrogPad™ mobile keyboard provides the first practical implementation of a full function keyboard for use in an anywhere, anytime, with any device mode of information access and input.  It is a one-handed keyboard which enables its user to hold documents, tools or other items while entering information on a PDA, Pocket PC, smart phone, laptop or other mobile device.

Both the layout and use of full-size keys contribute to overall ease of use and small size to deliver the ultimate in portability.  While presenting a unique key layout, the ergonomics have been shown to significantly shorten learning time compared with the traditional QWERTY layout (university studies indicate new users can reach 40 words per minute in 10 hours versus the 56 needed with QWERTY).  Since over 75% of all users do not touch type but use a "hunt and peck" approach, the FrogPad™ presents an opportunity for faster keyboard input.

The FrogPad™ has been designed for fast data entry.  The letter layout is based on the percent usage of each letter in the English language.  Fifteen letters that are used 86% of the time by typists are placed in the most efficient locations on the keyboard.  Overall layout uses the natural drumming motion of the hand to further optimize performance and enables international scalability for other languages.

The principal concepts underlying the FrogPad™ initial product concepts were conceived in September of 1994 by Kenzo Tsubai.  The Patent application was filed in April 1997 and U.S. Patent # 5,793,312 was issued on the keyboard technology invention on August 11, 1998.  After four years of research and development the first FrogPad™ prototype was released in April of 1999.

Click here for a link to another article on the FrogPad.



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