Well, it’s been a long time coming. And rumours have been circulating for months. BUt with the release of iOS8, third-party keyboards are finally allowed to crash Apple’s party.
We’ve been vocal critics of Apple’s worst-of-bread keyboard usability. They’ve dogmatically refused to fix it despite rising frustration and ridicule. And finally they’ve relented – not by fixing it themselves but by allowing third party keyboards on board.
This opens the doors to the vastly superior Swiftkey, Swype, Fleksy and Dextr keyboard to improve the texting experience… and in the process improve the usability of not just their devices, but every app that runs on their devices.
We tend to forget how central keyboards are to the entire touchscreen experience. Every time we need to tweet, post, tag, comment, chat, search, SMS or email, we’re reliant on text input. Thanks Apple. And about time!
It’s solution: rescramble the alphabet so that your thumb travels the least distance possible between letters. I love it when engineers try to solve ergonomic problems with equations: “If we minimise ze thumb-travelling coefficient, based on ze relative frequency each letter of ze alphabet, we can increase ze speed of typing, ja?” Logic beats intuition.
Max Planck Institute for Informatics
The blank squares represent the space bar and clustered around this central locus are all the high frequency letters… sort of. They claim that with 8 hours of intensive training, you will become as fast as you were on QWERTY. And after 19 hours you could be even faster than QWERTY. With efficiency gains of up to 34%.
Forgive us if we’re underwhelmed. Here’s why:
1. This is a tablet-only solution – so all that retraining is for only one device. which means we’re still condemned to using QWERTY on the rest of our devices.
2. Learning curves – Hate them. It does not take 8 hours to master QWERTY, professors. It takes months (if you take lessons) or even years (if you try to teach yourself). And countless hours of practice. What makes you think this new letter scramble is going to be easier – especially if we’re continually reverting to QWERTY on every other device?
3. History – Do the words Dvorak or Colemak mean anything to you? They too took the logic-over-intuition path, invented their own hard-to-learn letter scramble and have been consigned to the industrial scrap heap of disuse.
4. Intuition eats logic for breakfast – the most widely used and ubiquitous keyboard ever requires no lessons, no hours of rote practice, and no special muscle-motor memory. It’s called the T9 Alphanumeric Keypad. It can be found in the hands and pockets of nearly 6 billion people in every corner of the planet.
Why is it so popular?
Why is it so simple to master?
It might have something to do with a letter order every toddler learns in kindergarten.
Why, it’s as easy as A B C!
If a picture speaks a thousand words, how many words does a pictogram speak?
Not many, it seems. Meet Siine: QWERTY plus pictograms. Its value proposition is that you’ll take less taps to write out a phrase or sentence than a normal keyboard. Less taps maybe, but a helluva LOT more time — since you’ll spend ages browsing its library of pictograms to find the right icon.
See, you really can type out multiple words just by tapping on different icons or by tapping on a single one multiple times. BUT you’ll either waste too much time fiddling with your message (scratch that, maybe this word is better) or discovering new stuff on the keyboard (ooh, what happens if I tap this one more time?). At one point, I totally lost my train of thought while scrolling thru the icons in the menu.
To make matters worse, they’ve even attached a marketplace to the keyboard itself called the Siine Gallery where you can download even more pictogram sets. Hooray, more icons to waylay me from typing and getting things done!
Granted, the icons are somewhat of a feature that’s tucked away to the side and you still have the QWERTY for back up, right? Wrong. The standard keyboard itself sucks big time. The return key isn’t in the usual place and the backspace doesn’t register long presses for continuous deletion.
In my honest opinion, Siine is more a toy than a keyboard. I really don’t want my keyboard distracting me from the serious job of converting my thoughts into words. I’m having a hard time as it is thinking without having my own keyboard getting in my way.
The touchscreen has finally convinced a major manufacturer that sticking old technology into new devices doesn’t work. That and the fact that market doesn’t seem to be fond of buying these fatter, uglier phones. I know, I know: this is actually about physical keyboards being phased out, regardless if it’s QWERTY or not, but I’ll take it as a win nonetheless.
A QWERTY board on a mobile is just too clunky. No wonder more than one manufacturer has tried to hide it using sliders or by tucking the keyboard out of sight. Even RIM came out with a fully touchscreen phone, despite the BlackBerry brand’s raison d’etre being a physical keyboard. Add to that the stress of having to hit miniscule keys to generate miniscule text on a miniscule screen and you have a recipe for a repetitive injury lawsuit.
But wait, you cry out, how about us folks who are 1000% more productive when using a physical keyboard on our phones?
Sorry folks, it’s called market forces. And a massive migration on a scale never seen before is forcing touch-typers to the margins.
You see, each day, millions of people around the world are joining the touchscreen generation. And the vast majority of them are blissfully ignorant of the QWERTY layout and its quirky foibles. You see, they’ve never owned a computer before. A push-button handphone maybe, but not a PC or latptop. So by adding a physical keyboard with an ancient, cryptic keyboard layout, shrunk down to Mini-Me dimensions, you’re putting a monstrous usability hurdle in their way. These users are opting for sleeker, simpler and more adaptive touchscreen-only phones.
The market has spoken. So far, HTC is the first to listen. Even though QWERTY might still be king, it’s starting to look and smell like Richard the Third.
As people download and try out alternative keyboards via app stores, the market will also start clamoring for physical versions of the better virtual ones. Who knows, Dvorak might finally make headway at last! (Or maybe something even more enlightened and evolved?)
Usability and ergonomics might not be the main reasons why HTC is axing slide-out keyboards but it certainly sends the right signal: Mobile phones need better input mechanisms than the one we inherited from typewriters.
Which keyboard do you prefer on your mobile device: physical slideout or virtual touchscreen?
I’ve found another unique solution to the QWERTY keyboard problem: the W10 Keyboard.
If you’re like me and think of letters as individual characters, it might be hard to grasp how this keyboard works. It might help to imagine that each letter itself is made up of a couple of strokes. You assemble a letter by swiping the strokes together (or tapping on them in sequence, if that works better for you).
l + c = k
c + j = g
– = e
l + – = r
c + j + l + – + – + – + l + c = greek
If it still feels greek to you, this video might help explain the concept better.
The W10 Keyboard adopts the Korean way of texting, which might be familiar to you (or completely alien, depending on what side of the planet you’re on). I’m still wrapping my head around the concept and I’m guessing you are too. I suppose it might work for those not weaned on the Latin alphabet, but for me putting together words using letters is tough enough as it is.
A few of its adopters have sworn to the increased speed and accuracy of their typing though, so I guess it does work as long as you persevere through the daunting learning curve. And if you want to take a break, you can always cheat by going into landscape mode and using the QWERTY keyboard instead.
If you’re curious and want to try it out, you can get it for free from the Android store here.
Do you think the W10 deserves a 10 for an inspired solution?
Or do you give it a 0 for making texting even harder than it already is?
An auto corrected text message, accidentally sent to the wrong number, was the catalyst to lockdowns Wednesday at West Hall middle and high schools.
Just before noon, law enforcement and school officials issued the lockdowns after a West Hall community member reported a threatening text message.
The text, saying “gunman be at west hall today,” was received and reported to police around 11:30 a.m. But after police tracked the number, they learned the auto correct feature on the new cellphone changed “gunna” to “gunman.”
The message being sent to the wrong number added to the confusion. Read more
All keyboards aside, what are we really trying to do here — take our thoughts, ideas, other people’s thoughts, save them… and share them.
There are two major problems doing that with a set of alpha-numeric keys:
First, you are stuck recording all of your ideas verbally. Sometimes an image is worth a thousands words, and when all you have is a set of keys, your stuck cranking out those words instead of a doodle.
Second, when you’re typing, all of your notes are linear. This can be problematic when you want to make an outline of the content and jump around a lot (very difficult). And linear notes also don’t take advantage of our spacial memory.
For these two reasons and many more, pen and paper have been king in note taking scenarios, which is why I’m always on the look out for new “drawing” methods of note taking, especially when they’re digital. A digital drawing environment gives you the benefits of pen and paper, while adding searchability, “savability”, and all the other 21st century “abilities”.
As tablets become more popular, I think we’re getting closer to replacing paper (at least for the ‘haves’ side of the digital divide). And with tablets, i.e. touch screens, we have a whole new market for software based data entry methods.
7Notes is one of these new crop and as Tech Crunch puts it:
>Recognizing handwritten text isn’t trivial, which is why a new app called 7notes focuses almost entirely on this problem–and does the job really well.
In addition to doing a good job at recognizing handwriting (check out TC’s review to see how good), 7Notes also offers some extra nifty features including:
Formating with color
Mixing text with images
“Social Doodling” which is the ability to share and edit other people’s files
So if this sounds like it’s right up your alley, or you have been looking for an excuse to try out that new stylus that you bought with your iPad, check them out. They have a free and premium version for the iPhone and iPad (sorry, only premium gets you hand writing recognition).