Category Archives: Mobile

Two thumbs down for KALQ

Our WTF??!!?? of the month surely goes to the krazy konfubulation kalled KALQ.

Recently launched by the venerable Max Planck Institute and the no-less-venerable University of St Andrews, KALQ offers to solve the pressing problem of texting on a tablet.

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.

dreamstime_l_17534811_cellphone_Med

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!

Time to go back to kindergarten, professors.

3,095 Comments

Filed under History, Innovation, Interfaces, Mobile, Usability

Research In Stasis: The Demise Of BlackBerry

Blackberry is dying. Research In Motion (RIM), known for manufacturing the mobile devices characterized by distinctive and inflexible QWERTY keypads, is reportedly contemplating a company reorganization that could see 2,000 to 6,000 jobs eliminated, albeit it also predicts savings of $1 billion a year. This is pretty much indicative of a company with one foot in the grave.

Like the QWERTY keypad, RIM has gone from a symbol of business, professionalism and power to a sign of inflexibility and lack of imagination. The company has pretty much gone from the top of the food chain to something akin to krill.

So what caused Blackberry’s fall?

First off, it’s a big old fossil. It still markets email, for crying out loud. Although email does still count as a huge part of every person’s online experience, most people today only sign up for it as a gateway service, since it’s required to sign up for social networking and other services.

Another indication of its nature as big old dinosaur is the fact that the Blackberry devices today still look pretty much like their counterparts from years ago. Their failure to make a proper and definitive move from the QWERTY-dominated design definitely cost them customers. More often than not, QWERTY keypads require both hands to type and a spare hand is just not something the multi-tasking professional wants to let go of in this day and age.

Blackberry is also based on the premise that serious business people want serious business phones. What the company failed to anticipate is that the emotionless and efficient robot army they predicted would rule the corporate world hasn’t been designed yet. Human beings still comprise their market and human beings are still prone to desire individuality and fun.

Even though Blackberry may have managed to make deals with companies to issue serious business mobile devices to their employees, most people still prefer to use devices that let them hang loose and play from time to time.

QWERTY killed Blackberry; that and a lack of imagination.

BrisbaneTimes

4,402 Comments

Filed under Mobile

Kids these days…

Phone Generations

2,598 Comments

Filed under Fun, Interfaces, Mobile

Wingz SmartKeyboard: Will It Fly?

I haven’t covered keyboards lately, so I thought it was high time I did. I discovered the Wingz SmartKeyboard while browsing Kickstarter. It’s designed to solve the usbaility issue of texting on a touchscreen.

Wingz SmartKeyboard

Wingz SmartKeyboard

Wingz can connect as a bluetooth keyboard to a tablet or smartphone. But it’s also a “mobile device” itself — since the touchscreen panel at the middle actually runs on Android. You can actually stick a sim card in there to make calls and send texts.

While this is one way to solve the keyboard problem of touchscreen devices, I still think that lugging around yet another “too big for my pocket” device is a step back from mobility. And what would be the advantage of this over a Bluetooth keyboard?

I personally own an Apple Wireless Keyboard, the slimmest such device around, and even I don’t carry it around often. I tried carrying it around to pair with my iPad for writing on the go but the two device combo just doesn’t work well in actual usage. I just conceded defeat and bring a laptop when I need some writing done.

As an accessory, I would put Wingz on the same shelf as the Bluetooth headset, the external USB numeric keypad and the touchscreen stylus. It’s possibly useful for some people but for most it’s too much of a fiddle.

As a companion to a tablet or smartphone, I don’t think yet another device is the answer and certainly not one as expensive as this ($240). Every mobile device already has the best input method available: its own screen. It’s not tactile but it is very portable. So I guess the problem really is software and not hardware. Let’s stick to making virtual keyboards better first.

So does Wingz have the wings to fly? It’s certainly crashed and burned on Kickstarter – not even raising 1% of it’s $54K target.

3,513 Comments

Filed under Hardware, Interfaces, Mobile

Siine Keyboard. When Words Fail Me.

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.

If you want to try it out though, you’re welcome to download it from the Android Market here or just check out their demo video:

YouTube Preview Image

So is this keyboard a Siine of the times? Or a Siine of things to come?

3,815 Comments

Filed under Innovation, Mobile, Usability

HTC Rings Down the Curtain On QWERTY

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?

1,792 Comments

Filed under Interfaces, Mobile

Letters Like Lego With the W10 Keyboard

I’ve found another unique solution to the QWERTY keyboard problem: the W10 Keyboard.

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).

For example:

  • 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?

3,140 Comments

Filed under Innovation, Interfaces, Mobile, Usability

It had to happen: Texting error leads to lockdowns at West Hall middle, high schools

A recipe for disaster:

  1. A usability nightmare: QWERTY on a touchscreen

  2. An algorithm that makes the initial mistake even worse: Auto Correct

  3. Paranoia

As reported in the GainesvilleTimes News:

Texting error leads to lockdowns at West Hall middle, high schools.

Auto correct fail

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

3,519 Comments

Filed under Mobile, Usability

7Notes: Turning thoughts into words and pictures

 

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:

  • Predictive typing
  • Formating with color
  • Mixing text with images
  • Annotating 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).

So get scribbling and tell us what you think.

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By Elliott Williams

2,532 Comments

Filed under Innovation, Interfaces, Mobile

Snapkeys: Somewhere between “driving blind” and “using the force”

Well I never thought I would be stumped by a keyboard (or non-keyboard), but there’s a first for everything. After watching the video, I was left with phrases like “imaginary interface” and “faster than a pc keyboard” in my head — strong claims I know, but claims aside, the concept is pretty interesting.

You can’t tell from the video, but there are four keys and the whole alphabet fits into one of those four. You have one key that represents any letter that stands on “one point” (think F or V or T), one key for letters that stand on two points (W or N), letters that stand on a wide base, and letters that have a circle in them.

There are plenty of benefits to having only four keys: The target sized can be so large, that error is almost completely wiped out. In fact, the target sizes can be so big that you don’t even need to see the keys. That’s why they can tout the “invisible keyboard” monicker.

Sounds confusing right? It’s actually not. They have a demo on their website that is pretty convincing. After typing 4 words I didn’t need to look at the keys anymore, but your mileage may vary. And if you ever get confused, there’s always the visible mode.

Despite how fast I picked it up, I’ll have to hold out to see if: 1) this is vaporware, and 2) how good the prediction engine is. With only four keys, the machine needs to pick out of 6 different characters each time you type a letter, so the AI must be strong with this one.

The good news is that this company is trying to get their keyboard onto every smartphone company… The bad news is they have no expected release date.

Stay tuned for more, and if you have any other tastey details about Snapkeys, please leave a note in the comments.

via ubergizmo

Contributed by Elliott Williams

2,219 Comments

Filed under Innovation, Interfaces, Mobile