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.


By Elliott Williams


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


Filed under Innovation, Interfaces, Mobile

FrogPad: Turn your Magic Trackpad into a one handed keyboard

Magic Frogpad Frogpad is the one-handed keyboard that keeps on truckin’. It’s a simple sticker that overlays your Apple Trackpad – turning it into a all-in-one mouse+keyboard input device. Brilliant! Here’s the run down of the Frogpad concept:

  • Single handed use – left or right (but keyboards are “keyed” to a particular hand so you can’t switch once you buy)
  • Studies show new users reaching speeds of 40 words per minute in 10 hours, versus the 56 hours (conservative estimate) needed for QWERTY
  • 80 percent of most commonly used words can be typed with the 15 keys that don’t require “cording” (i.e. multi-finger combos)
  • There are multiple letters/numbers/punctuation  on each key, so some “cording” is required
  • On the downside – it doesn’t have that critical “command” key for all those other killer keyboard shortcuts

When I broke my wrist and had to wear a brace for 6 months, this all seemed pretty great. The physical version of the Frogpad was the only major contendor against lefty dvorak. Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready to spend 130USD on a new keyboard considering my condition was temporary.

Since then, they seem to have ceased production of all of their physical keyboards, and have started printing keyboard layouts that you can overlay on your Apple Magic Trackpad. This might suggest that they aren’t getting the traction they hoped for, but despite low levels of adoption, if you still want to give a one handed keyboard a shot, ugly-fying your trackpad with a proprietary sticker at the same time, go right ahead. The sticker and software only cost 14.99USD so it’s a pretty painless way to move beyond the clunkiness of QWERTY.

Have you tried the Frogpad? How do you rate the one-handed typing experience? How long did you take to adjust to the new letter layout?

 via ubergizmo

By Elliott Williams


Filed under Innovation, Interfaces

Keyboard Wars: Clunky QWERTY crushes dextrous Dvorak

The QWERTY keyboard layout was a somewhat necessary invention in the early days of the typewriter: keys placed in a certain order so they wouldn’t jam or get stuck. There was no ergonomics or usability involved. Just a jumble of letters, rearranged to fix a mechanical design flaw. The one exception perhaps, was the letter ‘R’, which was placed in the top row so that their salesmen could type the word ‘typewriter’ with one row of keys. Perfect for sales demos. Not so great to those who had to type anything else.

So in 1936 when Dr. August Dvorak — after careful analysis of physiology of the hand, and analysis of letter frequency — patented his eponymous keyboard layout, it seemed logical that people would welcome it with open arms. But in the 90 years since its invention, widespread adaption has never looked remotely likely.

The Dvorak Layout

Dvorak identified many key issues users had with QWERTY and, along with his in-depth usability findings, based his layout on these conclusions:

  • Letters should be typed by alternating between hands, allowing the typist to build a rhythm to gain speed and accuracy. i.e vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant etc.
  • Most people are right-handed, so the right hand should do most of the typing. A little unfair to lefties but coldly logical nevertheless.
  • For maximum speed and efficiency, the most common letters should be the easiest to reach. So these keys are placed in the middle (home) row.
  • The least common letters should be on the bottom row, which is the hardest row to reach.
  • The most common letter combinations should not be typed with adjacent fingers.

With these improvements, Dvorak keyboard converts claim:

  • reduced finger motion and less finger, hand and wrist strain. 5,000 high usage words can be typed on Dvorak’s home row. QWERTY? A mere 300 — mostly non-high usage.
  • increased typing speeds
  • drastically reduced error rates compared to the bog standard, QWERTY.
  • They also claim it’s faster the learn. Most telling me it takes less than a month to aclimatize.
  • and that it’s nothing but a pure joy thereafter.

This video (breathtaking in it’s tedium) shows what 117 words per min looks like on a Dvorak keyboard:

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Ergonomic Nirvana! And oddly musical in its rhythm. Looks and sounds amazing right? Should have been a no brainer. So what where Dvorak’s major barriers to adaption?

First, there’s the “network effect”. This dictates that it’s not the best technology that wins, but other factors such as cost, availability, speed to market and critical mass. Dvorak was up against three powerful network effects – manifested via education, manufacturing and distribution.

Education: QWERTY had the first mover advantage. It had millions of white-collar serfs in typing pools who’d already spent years of their lives and vast sums of their own money ingraining the uncomely QWERTY system into the very fibre of their being. Who would pay for the retraining? Employers? They didn’t have to pay the first time, so why would they cough up this time?

Manufacturing:  The cost of setting up a a second assembly line and machining a whole new set of parts gave the dominant player a distinct lead and the latecomer immense costs of entry.

Distribution: By this stage, the world’s entire typing pool would need to be given a second typewriter. This cost would have to be borne by the employer. Enough said.

IMHO, the real reason Dvorak failed to fly was this: While it’s obviously a more effective design, it’s still, at first glance, a mad jumble of letters. Think back to that sinking feeling when you first encountered QWERTY. That realisation that you were about to face an excruciating learning curve paved with blood, sweat and tears. One doesn’t just have to relearn the alphabet into some seemingly random sequence, but also assign one of ten fingers to each key. It requires a complex conversion of cognitive and spatial memory via rote learning and endless repitition into instinctive muscle motor memory.

Now, have someone tell you that you have to go thru that all over again. If it was so painful the first time, who but a crazy person would put themselves though it a second?

So obsessed was Dvorak with logic and efficiency, he lost sight of intuition. It sounds like a good idea. It just doesn’t look like one.

Any Dvorak users out there who can share their experiences?


Filed under History, Usability

Rewriting the Keyboard: Swype

If yasd;laskd;lasd;lasou have an newish Android phone, you may have already tried Swype: a text input application that promises to make typing via your touchscreen device significantly faster.

With over 50 million installs, Swype is the most popular alternative keyboard for Andriod devices. And with good reason. Swype is a gestural text-input technique specifically for touchscreen devices that represents a paradigm shift in word creation. Instead of trying to replicate the tap-tap-tap of a real world keyboard, you just trace your finger over the keys – just like joining the dots –  linking letters to form words in one fluid motion.


While there is a learning curve, Swype is a lot more intuitive then you might expect. It adds a space automatically after each word and includes robust auto-correct and text prediction features — de riguer in QWERTY-based keyboard these days. It also includes some neat gestures like moving the traced line above the keyboard to automatically capitalise a letter. And you have the choice of tapping or swyping.

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It is also possible to personalise your Swype experience, from choosing how often the suggestion box appears to setting the balance between speed and accuracy. It may take a while before you find a setting you’re comfortable with but it’s uplifting that such a wide range of options are offered.

But it ain’t perfect. It does require an intimate and intuitive knowledge of the QWERTY key order. And because you’re supposed to maintain contact with the screen while swyping, your finger obscures a sizable chunk of the keyboard – so you can’t always see where your finger should be heading next. And because you swype across a range of letters enroute to your desired letter, the text prediction isn’t always on the money – especially within the “U I O” letter cluster. The larger tablet version is pretty tiresome as your finger has to travel greater distances to complete each word.

It also raises a critical question – in creating Swype, the developers are relegating us from 10-finger texting to just one. Is single digit dexterity really a step forward?

Is Swype as good as it gets?

Could it be improved with a key layout optimised to reduce the tedious horizontal scrubbing back and forth?

Could we increase both speed and accuracy with a more intuitive keyboard layout?


Filed under Innovation, Interfaces, Mobile

Textees: A Keystroke of Genius

Say good-bye to embarrasing typos, unpredictable predictive text predictions or incorrect auto-correct corrections. Just roll one of these little rubber numbers onto your errant digit and Robert’s your relative!

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Introducing Textees – a wearable solution to texting on those tiny, squished-up QWERTY keyboards on your otherwise easy-to-use touchscreen device. Both low-tech and low-allergenic, you can finally hit the letter you were aiming for.

Red Textees

Who needs fancy-pants hi-tech wizardry like lexical dictionaries, semantic prediction and pressure sensitive piezo-electric sensors when you can solve the problem with a stylish, go-anywhere mini-fingertip in 6 fabulous flavours? The fact that they look like upside-down rubber bondage undies (with attachments and accessibility options) only adds to the fun.

Thanks Textees!


Filed under Hardware, Innovation, Mobile, Usability

Apple’s keyless keyboard: Once more with feeling

A recently published patent application indicates that Apple is finally looking to address the major gripe that people have with touch screen interfaces. They acknowledge in their patent that other touch sensitive devices lack the tactile, button-like reassurance of a traditional keyboard. In other words, you have no clue whether you’ve hit the right key or not.

Apple's keyless keyboard

Apple’s game changing design incorporates “pressure sensitive piezo-electric sensors” which can distinguish between deliberate keystrokes and accidental finger taps. Their keyboard design won’t actually have any individual keys; instead it will deliver one pleasant vibration for an accurate hit and another harsher vibration for a miss hit. Instant fingertip accuracy feedback!

They also note that the new design could incorporate any form of input-surface device for a computing system, not just a traditional QWERTY layout. As there are no actual buttons, any layout can be lit up from underneath the glass.

virtual keyboards can now get physical

So is this the start of Apple opening its doors to the possibility of more intuitive and interesting input methods?

And will all these changes add up to improved user experience while typing – for instance, a keyboard built around the shape of our hands and the differing length of each finger rather than rigid horizontal rows?

And can it deliver the holy grail of truly mobile touch typing?

I for one sincerely hope it’s a yes on all counts!


Filed under Hardware, Innovation, Mobile, Usability

Mobile Computing. Solved.

Who says you can’t walk, chew gum AND type at the same time?

The Mobile Computing Solution


Filed under Fun, Innovation

Tablet Keyboards – Why I’m Still All Thumbs

There has been a lot of hype surrounding the new ‘thumb’ keyboard (on the new iPad 2 and on SwiftKey for Android), a novel keyboard layout for tablet users aimed at facilitating typing on the go via two-thumbed text entry.


The thumb keyboard splits the traditional QWERTY keyboard into two; allowing your thumbs to reach all the keys. So you can walk, chew gum AND type at the same time: one would have thought a basic requisite for any ‘mobile’ device. But until now, tablet keyboards haven’t allowed the user to type with any confidence while on the move… or, in fact, away from any flat, stable surface.

There are a number of reasons for this, not least is the unnatural layout of the QWERTY keyboard. This system, designed for two hand/ten finger text entry, means users would require a third hand to hold and steady the device.

The other option is to hold the device with one hand and type with the other — an infuriating experience — because while one hand may be familiar with one side of the keyboard, what happens when it crosses to ‘the dark side’? Crossing this great divide can be like learning to type all over. From a usability perspective this technique is disastrous; not only is your typing hand unfamiliar with the opposite side of the keyboard, it also has to travel great distances to reach each key. These problems reduce event the most fluent touch typist to a two-finger hunt-and-pecker.

Another major design flaw of tablet keyboards is the lack of tactile feedback. The QWERTY keyboard layout only works when key positions are committed to memory and when there are tactile references:

  • the nubs on ‘F’ and ‘J’ keys
  • the reassurance of a protruding and springy button
  • each with well defined edges under each fingertip
  • and a discernable gap between each key.

These send an error report straight to your brain when you mistakenly press two buttons at once. All these cues are completely absent on the smooth, cold touchscreen.

While some tablets attempt to give haptic feedback — tiny vibrations when a key is pressed — this gives no indication whether you’ve hit the right key. So rather than attempting to give the user useful feedback, most tablet manufacturers opt for the gimmicky false reward vibration for any random stab within the perimeter of the entire keyboard.

This lack of helpful tactile feedback makes it almost impossible for anybody to type without constantly looking where their fingers need to go next. This in turn makes it impossible for users to walk and type at the same time without causing grievous bodily harm. Or worse. It’s why we have laws about texting while driving.

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So what are the possible solutions?

Some devices give feedback in the form of sound. But can sound serve as a suitable reference? At the moment, a singular sound for all keys is barely adequate. Again, the device gives no accurate, key-specific feedback.

Hopefully I’m not the only one who thinks we deserve a better user experience.

So while the thumb keyboards attempt to facilitate typing on the go, they still succumb to the major usability pratfalls of tablet text entry. What’s worse, they reduce you from your eight most dextrous digits to your clumsiest two.

Is thumbing dumbing it down as well as slowing you down?

If so, where do we go from here?


Filed under Mobile

Biting the handwriting that feeds us

R.I.P. Handwriting. 4127 B.C. – 2011 A.D.

Indiana is the latest U.S state to adopt the Common Core curriculum, an initiative to phase out the teaching of cursive, joint-up or running writing in schools. Instead students will be thought ‘basic’ typing skills, which education officials see as more useful in the modern employment world. But there are some in the education community who think the move could adversely affect the learning abilities of children. Apart from all these possible negative applications who will teach these kids these ‘basic’ typing skills?

Precious few schools still offer basic typing lessons. By and large, most schools across the globe dropped this subject from the curriculum years ago — either due to financial constraints or clueless and untrained teachers just giving up.

Back in the day, touch typing was a manual skill that required several years of intensive rote learning and muscle memory training; aimed at building up speed and reducing errors. Its primary goal was getting less academic girls (and no, I’m not being sexist) a dreary and low-paying job in a typing pool.

The typing pool

Since the advent of the word processing software, the typing pool has dried up. Most executives now do their own typing. Most with no formal training. And most perpetuating a cluster of shockingly unproductive habits:

  • The old “two-finger hunt and peck is fast enough for me” cop-out.
  • The “never look away from the keyboard” insecurity.
  • The “I’ll just backspace over an entire line to fix a single error and retype the entire line all over again” remedy.
  • The “I’ll save when I get to the end” routine.

Who’s gonna teach it? Are we going to assign our unskilled and already over-taxed teachers the futile task of teaching children to become keyboard maestros?

Or in the end, will students be left to fumble about in the dark, developing and habituating a range of downright unproductive habits?

Will we breed a generation of QWERTY ninjas?

Or a generation who can’t write a post-it-note?


Filed under History