Crowdsourcing Innovation: Janis Berneker & David Eberle, icoaching gmbh

Crowdfunding sites are offering a new path for inventors with original ideas. We talk to inventors looking to gain the public’s favour...

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Janis Berneker / David Eberle

 Job title: Managing Partner / Partner

 Organisation: icoaching gmbh

 Location: Zurich, Switzerland


WRIO Keyboard

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What it does & how it works:

WRIO is a keyboard for fast, precise and intelligent writing on your mobile device. It’s an alternative to the standard keyboard in Android or iOS, and is designed in a way to increase typing speed and to reduce errors.

What makes it special?

A couple of things. Firstly, we look at the keyboard from a new angle, creating a honey-comb layout that allows to make the keys bigger and in a shape that’s easier to hit for our fingers.

Secondly, we increased the usability and reduced the number of touches required, e.g. capitalization, delete and spaces can be done by gestures anywhere on the keyboard. Important special characters are available on the main layer; others can be accessed on a second layer (also easy to access) or directly through gestures.

The final version will also include smart auto correction/completion (non-intrusive, capable of learning what words the user actually uses including slang) and will be capable to learn and correct typing mistakes by adjusting its invisible layer in the background to match the user’s behavior.

Ultimately, this results in higher speed (less touches) and less errors (more accuracy), in turn resulting in faster writing.

What’s your background, and what inspired you to come up with the idea?

We have been interested in product usability since many years from different angles. In his previous job as a journalist for PCtipp, a former Swiss IDG magazine, Janis tested and reviewed hundreds of technology products. David works as a management consultant. We are both extreme writers of emails on mobile devices, and we are totally fed up with the usability. That’s when we thought that there has to be a better solution on modern touch devices.

Why Kickstarter?

Developing an app always is time-consuming and costly. We funded the alpha version with our private money but are now turning to the public to raise the required funds to complete the development of the final app. Also, we think it’s a good way to create a sizeable beta community that will help us make the app even better.

Is Crowdfunding good for innovation? How so?

We believe it is, although there are certain caveats. Crowdfunding enables creative minds and innovators to raise the funds needed to realize their ideas. In contrast to investing, crowdfunding allows the innovator to stay independent while serving as a great test in the market, whether there is actual demand. The caveat, from our point of view, is that there is a lot of effort necessary to get noticed since there are many projects competing for attention. The environment seems already to have professionalized a lot, with beautifully crafted campaigns and expensive PR services, something which a young and independent entrepreneur probably cannot afford.

Reactions on KS so far?

We think we had a good start. On day 2 we have funded our project already by 20%, which we think puts us on track to reach our goal of $10000. What we enjoy is that pledgers ask us a lot of questions and seem to be really excited about our project. It’s a blessing to get in touch with people who share exactly the same pain points and seem to just have waited for our project to come along. This I think is great about Kickstarter, to match ideas with demand, and to bring the people that share the same needs and wishes together.

What have you learned from your campaign?

We have realized that a fund-raising campaign requires a lot of preparation. To tell the story and showcase the product in a way that is understood quickly by a wide range of people takes time. Also the creation of all the presentation and communications material is time consuming. What really helped us was to engage with potential users before starting the campaign. That gave us a lot of insights how to communicate our story, and how to include answers to many questions that our user base might typically ask. If we did it again, we’d probably engage even more with potential users before the launch, probably have them co-create the campaign.

When is the product due to ship?

The alpha version is available now, and can be obtained by pledging on Kickstarter. The beta test is planned to launch in November. The final app will be available in early 2016, probably around February.

What’s wrong with QWERTY keyboards or other traditional keyboard layouts such as Dvorak or QWERTZ?

The QWERTY layout has been optimized for a typewriter’s mechanics and not for efficiency and typing speed. Although this has been improved on newer keyboard layouts such as Dvorak, all of these have been designed for ten fingers (touch typing). WRIO keyboard is different. We redesigned it from scratch and optimized the layout for usage with one or two fingers. Additionally, we utilize the new possibilities of touch devices for useful gestures. For example, you can easily capitalize or delete a letter by swiping. In the end you type faster and with less errors.

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How do you compete against something as ingrained in modern society as keyboard layouts? Many have tried but none have ever succeeded – is it really possible to reach critical mass without a big push from device-makers such as Apple or Google?

In fact, about 15 years ago everyone was typing with a different keyboard layout on cell phones. Thus, we do think that people can use different layouts on different devices simultaneously – if there is a real benefit. Yet, in our opinion this is not the case with other current keyboards. We asked more than 150 people if they are satisfied with their current keyboard and 73% disagreed. The most important features they demanded were: larger keys and a better auto correction. We think that if you try to solve people’s pain points there’s a way to succeed. Many apps started small and, if they offered a real advantage, succeeded.

In the end our app doesn’t need a critical mass to please a single user. It’s compatible with all apps and the user has no disadvantage if other people use other keyboards.

Will the rise of wearable tech – and the limited screen space - mean people are more open to alternative keyboard designs than ever before?

A watch would need a completely different input method than a keyboard. So we don’t think that WRIO (in it’s current form) is the solution for small wearables. The rise of wearables could mean that people get more open to alternative typing layouts on the other mobile devices.

How long does it take someone to learn the WRIO layout, and what sort of feedback have you gotten from people?

Until now we tested our app only with a small user base but feedback has been great so far. Our user group reported a significant drop in typing errors and like the new gestures a lot. As the letters are arranged in a similar way as on QWERTY layout it’s possible to learn WRIO very quickly. In one day (assuming normal usage) you are already able to type slightly faster than before but of course you get even faster after some more time.

What’s next for the company and the product?

Right now our focus is on WRIO Keyboard. If our Kickstarter campaign reaches the goal, we will start the beta phase where we improve WRIO keyboard together with our community. We will work on a smart (and helpful) auto correction/completion as well as a dynamic layout feature (learning from the user’s typing behaviour), to further reduce errors intelligently. And we want to develop an iOS version. Unfortunately, this won’t be easy as the Apple operating system is less flexible compared to Android. Depending on which goal we reach we will be able to implement even more awesome features.

We also have other ideas for great apps in mind but we will take one step at a time.