Aeviou: A Chinese Input Method with Promise

Aeviou” is the name of a new input method for Chinese, designed specifically for a new generation of touchscreen mobile devices with soft keyboards. This new input method, which looks to be at least partially inspired by Swype, seems to solve a lot of the problems currently faced by pinyin-centric input methods.

The Problem

The problem is that while pinyin is a convenient way to enter Chinese on a keyboard, for many, it’s an extremely unforgiving input method. For languages like English, T9 predictive text input on older phones and, more recently, auto-correct on soft keyboards have greatly sped up text input on mobile devices, but neither of these works for pinyin. This is partly due to the shortcuts offered by pinyin input methods. For example, to get 你好, you could enter “nihao” in its entirely, but you can could also enter “nih” or “nhao” or maybe even just “nh”. Most of the pinyin input methods out there now will display 你好 as a top result for any of these inputs. You quickly get used to entering “xx” (or at most “xiex”) instead of “xiexie” to get 谢谢, and the whole thing saves a lot of time.

The way this system of shortcuts is unforgiving is that it depends on every keystroke being accurate. When a single letter is used to represent a whole syllable (and thus a whole character), a typo can be disastrous. When you’re spelling out whole words in English, there’s some leeway which can be leveraged in order to create input methods like T9 and auto-correct. But when you’re shortcutting your way through pinyin, T9 and auto-correct aren’t options. (I have to admit, though, Chinese pinyin-based auto-correct would have results disastrous enough to be way funnier than the ones seen on damnyouautocorrect.com.)

Some Examples of Why You Can’t Auto-Correct

I’m going to give some hypothetical examples based on my Mac’s pinyin input system, QIM. Theoretically, you could get the same or similar results on many mobile device soft keyboards, although each is a little different. The most interesting results would probably occur on an Android phone using Google pinyin, since the input method is synced with your PC’s pinyin input method.

Anyway, the examples (in each case, there’s a typo affecting one letter in the input):

  1. Trying to type “hpy” to get 好朋友 (good friend), you type “hpt” and get 很普通 (very ordinary).

  2. Trying to type “bjhcz” to get 北京火车站 (Beijing Train Station), you type “bjhcx” and get 北京话出现 (Beijing dialect emerges!).

  3. Trying to type “xgmn” to get 性感美女 (sexy beautiful woman), you type “xfmn” and get 幸福吗你 (are you happy?).

OK, so these examples are a little over the top, and no one is going to get by using only the first letter of every syllable to type in pinyin, but the shortcuts are built into the input method.

A New Solution

So the reason the Aeviou is a great solution is that it offers the quickness of the “shortcuts” above through a “swipe” method, made possible by a soft keyboard that updates with each “keystroke” to offer input only of possible syllables. Effectively, it kills the shortcuts but allows full, unambiguous pinyin syllable entry to become quick and painless.

Read more on TechRice, where I read about this new input method, and check out the video below for a demo:

Great idea! I’m really happy to see innovation around Android in China.

13 Comments to “Aeviou: A Chinese Input Method with Promise

  1. Chris says:

    Funnily enough, in your post you typed “bjchz” instead of “bjhcz”- which, if my Google Pinyin is the same as your QIM, will get you to the Beijing Car Show (北京车展).

  2. That’s a cool-looking input method, I really like how they’ve made the ‘keyboard’ so flexible.

    But what I found most amusing about the video is the bit where she introduces the fuzzy pinyin. The phrase “有口音的用户” leapt out at me. Actually, everybody has an accent… but yeah, I know she means ‘users with a non-standard accent’.

    • Yeah, I thought the same thing!

      I think what she means is “users who can’t properly use pinyin to spell words in putonghua to save their lives.” :)

      • Interesting how accent intrudes into spelling, though, isn’t it? I occasionally see a similar thing in English, where pronunciation/accent interferes with spelling (and not in things like Huckleberry Finn or Trainspotting where the author is deliberately ‘spelling’ an accent or dialect).

  3. Mei-Mei says:

    Am I the only one who’s too conservative to see the advantages of an ever-changing keyboard? Seriously – I can’t see how you can not get confused by the letters popping up at different places all the time.

  4. Brendan says:

    Yeah, I’m with Mei-Mei on this one. It’s a neat system, but the advantage of QWERTY is that the letters are in predictable places. Something like this seems like it’d require more thought and/or training to use with any kind of speed.

    What’s handwriting input like on Android these days? I use handwriting on the iPhone, partly as a way of keeping myself in shape, but mostly because the built-in Pinyin method is frankly lousy — small fonts and a limited database of words. It smells like it was ported from the state-of-the-art-circa-2002 Pinyin IME that Apple builds into OS X.

    • benjamin says:

      I do think that handwriting input methods are best, especially for 2nd language learners since it requires you to put more active thought into the actual character form, but this does not look like it’d be much more difficult that qwerty to learn from scratch, and once learned it would certainly be much faster. The only reason the letter positions on a qwerty keyboard are predictable are because most of us have already learned them by now.

  5. Walter says:

    While on the topic of input methods, I find myself enamoured with the stroke-based input in the iPhone (it’s probably a feature in other smart phones as well). In terms of speed and efficiency it is very much inferior to the pinyin and other romanised input methods but I find myself coming back to the stroke-based input method whenever I need to input anything in Chinese because it is just more fun this way. If anything, though, I would have prefered that it recognises and parses a character as a whole rather than incrementally/stroke-by-stroke. Oh, and writing with a stylus would of course be much better than using my fingers. :)

  6. light487 says:

    I’ve always said that “a typo in English is not as bad as a typo in Chinese”.. This new input seems very intuitive at first glance.. the “base” letters don’t move and you can only “link with” letters that are “possible” and the rest of the letters displayed are also arranged in such a way that subsequent letters are positions that are possible and so on. When they are holding down the S for Shang, you can see how you might get used to reading 2 or 3 letters in front of your current letter..

    With Chinese on iPhone, I find that I use the standard Pinyin input the most.. and if I make a mistake, the entire sentence suddenly makes no sense at all.. so I agree that something needs to be done but whether this new IME is the answer, I don’t know…

  7. Kellen says:

    Actually I think the varying location of the other letters would be a great advantage. The first letter of the syllable is where you’d expect it to be on qwerty. Then a stroke to the left is always A, to the right always U. I could see it requiring very little effort to learn the system. You just learn 6 directional strokes to layer on top of initials that you already know the location of. And it wouldn’t be such an issue to learn XX for 谢谢. The most common ones you’d learn quickly and the rest you could spell.

    I like the idea a lot. Wish I could try it out for a week.

  8. ocastling says:

    How does one write characters such as 爱 啊 噢 哦 etc. that all begin with vowels?

  9. Tim says:

    Just if anyone’s curious, it’s now out on Google Play.

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