Thursday, 3 January 2019

The Vision of Modality by Sarah Evans, Guest writer and Ability Online member/mentor

When Ian Hanson bought his first smart phone in 2015, he hated the keyboard, just like he hated the keyboard on the iPad he had borrowed a few years before. “I couldn't even come close to making full use of my fingers, I didn't like holding the phone in my palms and scrunching my thumbs up, and a one-thumb action was very cumbersome and slow and forced my thumb all over the screen for simple words like ‘and’ and ‘all’".  According to Hanson, there are inherent deficiencies in the standard keyboard, especially for a phone. So, as a creative person, he decided to create a keyboard that would work for himself and the millions of other people who type on their phone. “I wanted to type, and be able to type thousands of words in a day, and be able to use my phone to do it." 

To accomplish his vision, Hanson created a technology company, which he called Joyful Machines. Ever since his dad brought home a TRS-80 computer from Radio 
Shack, which he called a “Trash-80", technology has been a tool for Hanson. He is passionate about using technology to bring people together. 

It took Hanson three and a half years to get Modality to where it to today. At first, he thought of creating a simple re-arrangement of letters, similar to what August Dvorak tried to do for the typewriter in the 1930's and 1940's. But he soon realized that the system was moving toward what he calls “group typing" whereby several letters appear on the same block. He was overwhelmed by the possibilities. “Imagine navigating this wide-open field of knowing that you wanted to group letters together, but there are literally no limitations to how." For the first version of Modality, he went through hundreds of arrangements, starting with small circles and ending up with a diamond. But there were problems with the diamond. Taking a suggestion from someone, he had put all of the vowels together in one block, along with the letters Y and R. But this didn't work because there were so many ambiguities, making it hard to get to the word you wanted. For example, the words ‘foot’ and ‘feet’ appeared together when pressing the same combination of buttons, along with many other words. “I used to have to go to the fifth screen of words just to get to ‘piano’,”Hanson explains. 

The other issue with the first version was that users had to identify the first letter of each word, meaning two taps were required to get each word started. Hanson says this was lame for two letter words like ‘to’ or ‘be’. 

For the next ten months, Hanson took the keyboard apart and rebuilt it. "I had to overcome a lot of personal fears to develop Modality 1.0 into Modality 2.0,"  he said. "But Modality 2.0 is, in fact, the very best that I can do." 

His greatest inspiration in creating the new keyboard was to arrange the letters by shape. It was similar to a party game he used to play, but he again went through hundreds of letter arrangements to be sure it was the best. 

When Modality 2.0  was complete, it had five buttons. But again, someone challenged Hanson to make it four buttons, and so he did.

“It's a four button typing system that has perhaps a limitless number of applications, but in the end is natural and comfortable." 

While building the keyboard, he realize that it was the perfect size for a watch but could also work for tablets and screens as large as televisions. 

In fact, he consistently hears from users of the Apple watch and Samsung watch that there is as better system for typing on those platforms. He also says that he's received encouraging feedback from people who don't want to or can't easily move their limbs or digits. Moreover, visionaries speak well of the keyboard and point out its benefits, “trailblazing the way for people who will eventually love Modality but don't know it yet."

One of the most rewarding parts for Hanson is interacting with customers.  He says the company is committed to reaching out, listening to its customers’ suggestions and personally thanking them for their support.  It is especially encouraging when a customer makes a suggestion that is in line with what Hanson and his team are  already thinking for a future update.  "It clearly indicates that we have begun to express our vision more clearly and that the customer can see that vision and wants to be a part of it." 

Modality for four platforms  - iPhone/iPad, Android, Apple Watch and Samsung Watch - is available at For more information or support, email

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