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Creating a Simple Touch keyboard

Introduction and design

If you have experience in designing Keyman keyboards for computers, the interface for designing mobile keyboards looks very similar, but it hides the reality of additional steps necessary for mobile keyboards. This tutorial attempts to walk you through the process.

The Quick French tutorial shows how to create a simple desktop keyboard for typing accented characters used in French and other European languages. It is possible to create a touch screen format of that keyboard, but it is probably unnecessary. The default keyboards for both Android and iOS devices have a way to type these accented characters. Press and hold on a vowel, and a popup menu will give you a choice of accents to put on that letter.

For this tutorial we will demonstrate something usable for the Fulfulde language cluster spoken across many Sahelian countries of Africa. Fulfulde is usually written using the Latin alphabet, but there are a few characters added to the usual list of alphabetical characters. So this is a useful example for any language wanting to add a few characters to the standard Latin keyboard. Here are the characters we are going to add, together with their Unicode values.

        ɓ U+0253 Ɓ U+0181 ɗ U+0257 Ɗ U+018A
        ŋ U+014B Ŋ U+014A ƴ U+01B4 Ƴ U+01B3

Here we will likely want to proceed differently than with the desktop keyboard. The usual approach for a desktop keyboard is to create a deadkey. The keyboards I have used for Fulfulde (going back to decades ago) used the / key as the deadkey. /b gave ɓ, /d gave ɗ, and so on.

It would be possible to use that desktop keyboard logic on touch screens.  But your mobile device users will find these rules annoying. Instead of two keys they would probably have to press four, since the standard alphabetical keyboard on most touch devices does not have the slash key. So they would have to press the key to switch to the numeric keyboard, then press slash, then press the key to go back to the alphabetical keyboard, then the letter. What touch screen users would appreciate is something that uses the great feature of touch screens, the long press or press and hold on a letter, to see analogous letters. So we’ll set up a touch screen keyboard that lets you press and hold ‘d’ to see the two hooked d characters, press and hold ‘b’ to see the hooked b characters, and so on.

Next: Making, testing and distributing the touch keyboard