Typing English on a smartwatch is a challenge. Choosing from 20,000 Chinese characters is a relative nightmare. That’s why Hong Kong-based iBeezi came up with their ‘6-key’ keyboard.

The company’s name means ‘one stroke one character’ (一笔一字) in Chinese, and they’ve come up with software that lets users type Chinese characters, Roman letters and even emoji on smart watch. 

“It’s currently the only solution for writing Chinese on a smart watch,” says Alexis Van Gestel, CEO of iBeezi.

The current method of typing Chinese on smartphones adapts the Sogou input method developed by Sohu.com, which cannot be transferred to smart watches.

“[The Sogou input method] is predictive, but it can only function properly on large screen devices. Also, when a user writes pinyin, every character appears in a random order for selection,” he continues.

“iBeezi is like a path based on pinyin and advances into characters. The same characters will always be located in the same corner so that users can master it quickly and build memory muscle easily.” 

The algorithm for the keyboard was developed by professor Pierre-Henry de Byuyn who lived for eight years in Greater China. “I have come to understand that the Chinese language is one of the most meaningful and richest languages in the world,” Mr.Byuyn says. “I wanted to bring back the full power of Chinese characters in the world of communication and improve the speed of writing them.”

There is a reason why the team chose six keys for its keyboard. John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2014 for their work on ‘the inner GPS of the brain and how the brain learns things (cognitive-neuroscience)’. According to them, a hexagon shape enhances the human capability to learn new knowledge and language faster. 

Founded in May 2013, the team of 10 is based in Belgium and Hong Kong. The company has so far raised a seed funding of $300,000 USD from investors in Belgium and Hong Kong to further their Chinese expansion. The iBeezi smart watch app is currently available on Android, but not iOS, as Apple does not allow third party keyboards on the Apple Watch. 

The team is now taking a B2B approach, working with smartphone companies to introduce the keyboard. “We aim to become the reference keyboard for smartwatches and to further develop written communication for wearables by partnering with the leading social media, e-commerce and chat platforms in China and overseas countries,” says Mr. Van Gestel.

In the near future, iBeezi plans to integrate other complex languages, as well as a ‘stroke’ mode for their keyboards.

Several companies in the Chinese market have been looking to enter the Chinese typing space. In late October, Sogou filed eight patent lawsuits claiming that the Baidu- backed input method was suspected of violating multiple key patents by Sogou, raising a claim of 80 million RMB.

Image Credit: iBeezi

Eva Yoo is Shanghai-based tech writer. Reach her at evayoo@technode.com

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