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soft keyboard (onscreen keyboard or software keyboard)

Contributor(s): Amy Wong

A soft keyboard (sometimes called an onscreen keyboard or software keyboard ) is a system that replaces the hardware keyboard on a computing device with an on-screen image map . Soft keyboards are typically used to enable input on a handheld device so that a keyboard doesn't have to be carried with it, and to allow people with disabilities or special needs to use computers. The displayed keyboard can usually be moved and resized, and generally can allow any input that the hardware version does. Other features, such as speech synthesis or word completion or prediction, may be included. A soft keyboard is perhaps the most common type of virtual keyboard (a term that encompasses all types of software keyboards).

Although there have been a number of portable keyboard s and keyboard alternatives (such as Graffiti ) developed for handheld devices, they have often been awkward and error-prone. With a soft keyboard, you enter data by tapping keys on the keyboard display, usually with a stylus , so that accuracy depends only on hitting the right key. Some soft keyboards include programs that recognize the likelihood of certain keystrokes in context, so that they can choose the most likely choice when a keystroke is ambiguous.

For people who are unable to use a regular keyboard, soft keyboards allow input through a variety of means, including mouse or trackball control, touch screen , and head-pointing devices.

This was last updated in March 2011

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