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Inspired by Insiders—Improving the Windows input experience

Three students look at a lap top together.

Greetings from the Input and Language team!

Input is at the core of what you do when interacting with your PC, and today we’d like to share some of the updates we’ve been making to the input features in Windows. What exactly is ‘Input’? This simply describes features used to enter data—whether you’re typing on a hardware or touch keyboard, writing with a pen or dictating with your voice. Do any of these things on a Windows 10 Preview Build and, chances are, you’ve made an impact on improving Windows input features for users in multiple languages around the world. And that’s what this latest Inspired by Insiders story is all about.

We’ve just released a long list of new input features and improvements with the May 2019 Update (19H1), which we’ll get to shortly. But first, we wanted to take a quick look back at other input highlights inspired by our Windows Insider community.

Insiders weigh in on keyboards, emoji and handwriting

Prior to 19H1, one the most highly requested improvements we made for input was the integration of shape writing via the new touch keyboard with the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. Windows Insider feedback played a huge role in the development of this keyboard, which we covered in an earlier Inspired by Insider article. We also introduced another very popular Insider request: the ability for hardware keyboard users to easily input emoji in Windows via the Emoji Panel (press WIN + (period), or WIN + (semicolon) to bring it up).

As we moved into the next release, the April 2018 Update, Insiders continued to help shape input developments. We started by adding an acrylic background to the keyboard, to improve the aesthetics as part of our efforts to incorporate Fluent Design across the system. Later, based on requests, we expanded our shape writing support to enable it for the wide touch keyboard layout, along with other improvements to the touch keyboard. We also extended language support for Emoji, bringing it to 190 locales, with emoji type to search support availability in 150 of them.

 

Handwriting panel with keyboard.
Insiders inspired several handwriting panel improvements, including a better button layout and more intuitive gestures.

Next, we turned our attention to an entirely different input challenge: the handwriting panel, which lets you use a pen (or your finger) to enter words in Windows. Based on Insider feedback, we started by changing the button layout for a more streamlined text insertion experience. Insiders also made some good suggestions about gesture recognition which led to simpler, more intuitive gestures like the insertion gesture (to quickly add space between words or letters) and commit gesture.

For the October 2018 Update, we worked on addressing your clipboard history and Japanese IME feedback—more on that in just a sec!

How Insiders helped shape our latest innovations

We evaluate Insider features in a variety of ways. This includes telemetry from devices running Insider Preview builds and, feedback submitted in the Feedback Hub. We also sometimes do controlled feature rollouts and A/B studies—a methodology that has enabled us to be able to isolate the impact of certain changes, and roll them out with confidence and quality.

Here are a few highlights that we rolled out during 19H1, with Insiders’ help:

Increased typing accuracy via hit target resizing. Improving the experience when typing with our touch keyboard has been an ongoing topic with our Insiders, and the latest change we’ve made in this space was to implement dynamic hit target resizing. What does that mean? Basically, before now, you had to be really, really precise when it came to touching the right key. Easy enough when typing slowly, but as soon as you start to type quickly your fingers tend to slip a little, and the key you end up pressing might not be the one you expected. This 19H1 feature dynamically adjusts the hit target of each key (that is, the area that will consider a key “pressed”), based on predictions of what letter most likely will be typed next. Sounds cool—but would it actually pay off for users?

To find out, we initially rolled the feature out to 50% of our Insiders. Sure enough, for Insiders in the treatment group (aka the ones with the change) we saw a 15% drop in use of the backspace key compared to our control group. The change was a success! We proved that it helped reduce the need to go back and correct text—and decided to ship it to all Insiders (as part of the 19H1 release).

 

Close up of touch keyboard.
A representation of what the touch keyboard looks like under the covers

Easier access to kaomoji and symbols to the Expressive Input Panel. One of the things we heard from Insiders was that they wanted an easier way to type special characters in Windows. It’s hard to remember all the Alt key combos! In RS5, we introduced kaomoji* and symbols into the panel in RS5 for Chinese (Simplified), based on data from the Pinyin IME. Requests to get this available in every language started to grow. Now we wanted to see if adding kaomoji and symbols views would appeal to a broader audience. We updated the symbols and kaomoji to be relevant for all languages, and sent the update to a subset of Insiders. The result: we saw 10% increase in usage when we included kaomoji and symbols in the panel. Haven’t tried it yet? Pressing WIN+(period) on your Insider PC will bring up the panel – you can switch between emoji, kaomoji, and symbols using the categories at the top.

*You might ask, what’s kaomoji? Basically, it’s using Unicode characters to create… well… characters! Like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (shrug) and ༼ つ ◕_◕ ༽つ (gimmie).

 

Examples of Expressive Input Panels.
A request from Insiders for Kaomoji and symbols in the Expressive Input Panel led to a jump in usage.

Expanded Clipboard history. Back in RS5, based on your feedback, we introduced a new clipboard experience (via the WIN+V shortcut) where you could save multiple copied text clips and images items to access later. One of the things we heard most was that the UI wasn’t compact enough, that each item in Clipboard History was “taking up too much space” or was simply “visually way too big.” We heard you, and based on our analysis of clipboard history usage, we shrunk the height of each entry, giving you access to more entries without needing to scroll the view. We then introduced the experience as a Quest in the Feedback Hub. We started to roll out the change, encouraging Insiders both with and without the design update via a Feedback Hub Quest to try out clipboard history. Feedback about the new design was great, with Insider comments like this helping to confirm the roll-out: “You’ve already made it better by letting it show more copied items.“ “UI change makes Clipboard more in line with existing Windows Design language”.

East Asian Microsoft Input Method Editor (IME) Improvements. During 19H1, we began work on a new Japanese IME. Insiders loved the updates, but they also saw room for improvement, so we decided to take the IME offline for a while to do more work on it based on your suggestions. We did the same for the Simplified and Traditional Chinese IMEs. Recently with 20H1, we re-introduced these IMEs and are happy to announce that they are more secure, more stable and easier to use than ever.

In conclusion

Our article on Input wouldn’t be complete without a call-out to the Vietnamese Telex and Number key-based keyboards. This update applied to just one language. But here’s something that might surprise you: it was one of the top-10 most upvoted features requests by Insiders in 19H1! This proves what we’ve known all along: the typing experience (in all languages) is a critical part of the overall Windows experience—just like the Insiders who help drive it.

But wait, there’s more

This is only a selection of input-related highlights we’ve been working on, and we hope you’ve found it interesting! As we continue down the latest release path, we’ve got even more updates ready for Insiders like you to try, including expanded language support for dictation, expanded SwiftKey typing intelligence and more. We love your feedback so keep it coming (being as specific as possible, if you can). Your feedback helps us make Windows better for everyone.

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