Coby Electronics adopts Kannuu's user interface for text navigating

When I saw Kannuu‘s user interface for text navigation last year, it seemed wonderfully simple. Now the company has landed its first commercial licensee: Coby Electronics will use Kannuu’s user interface on a couple of new music players.

The Kannuu interface feels as elegant as haiku. It makes it easy to spell out a bunch of words or phrase using only your thumb, helping you navigate on devices that can’t accommodate a keyboard. The company claims that you could find a song or artist three times faster with the Kannuu interface than you could on an Apple iPod, with its scroll wheel.

You can use the Kannuu interface to spell words using just your thumb, pointing “up, down, left, right or center.” On any given one of those buttons, letters of the alphabet appear. You scroll through different letters by applying pressure in one direction.

Once you select a letter, the predictive-text function of Kannuu (dubbed “partial word completion”) initializes and presents another set of five different letters, all based on what you might be trying to spell and what is in the relevant database at hand. If you were trying to spell “Stairway to Heaven,” you could do it this way in just a few keystrokes.

The Coby devices are hitting the market later this quarter. More licensees are on the way. Dallas-based Kannuu makes money through royalties on the Coby deal, said Sean-Michael Daley, chief executive.

The company started in 2002 in Australia. It spent a long time getting the interface right and securing patents for the technology. It moved to Dallas and then launched at the DEMOfall show in October of last year. It has 10 employees and has raised an undisclosed amount of angel money. At some point, Daley plans to raise a new round.

The smart part about the Kannuu interface is that it is context aware. The letters or numbers for each of the five directional buttons depends on what the user is trying to do. The prediction is good because it is limited to whatever the user is trying to do. If you’re looking up a music artist and you type “L-E-D,” you can bet pretty fast that the next word is going to be Zeppelin.

Daley said that the limited nature of the predictions is what makes it seem more accurate than predictive text that you use on cell phone text messaging systems. That is what has helped the company win some awards at mobile conferences and from Nokia. Kannuu has set up a developer group so that customers can more easily set up their applications using Kannuu. The company believes the interface can be used across a wide swath of applications, including mobile applications where you need to do things such as enter the name of a hotel at a mobile version of a web site such as

As for more deals, Daley said, “There are others coming behind this.”

VentureBeat is studying mobile marketing automation. Chime in, and we’ll share the data.