Thoughts

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Keyboards on mobile must die

According to an article in the New York Times, Before the iPhone arrived in 2007, no one really thought typing on touch-screen keyboards was a good idea.

In 2016, it is still not a good idea.

Typing on a touchscreen by pointing at individual letters on a virtual keyboard is archaic – like accountants adding with their fingers. We’ve got used to all sorts of gestures and microinteractions – we’re ready for the next challenge.

Keyboard metaphor

Imposing the PC desktop metaphor onto mobile devices does not work.

From a usability point of view, keyboards are familiar; a good solution, helping us make the transition to mobile devices.

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For users familiar with typing, a standard QWERTY keyboard would be preferable.
Per Mollerup, in Simplicity: A Matter of Design – General or special simplicity (page 20)

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QUERTY keyboard layouts on touchscreen devices make no sense

QWERTY is the arrangment of characters on a mechanical typewriter – devised and created in 1868 by Christopher Sholes – to help prevent the type bars from jamming.

I touch type and hardly ever look at my keyboard. It is mostly so intuitive for me that I could more easily point out a key on my keyboard by typing that letter.

When I’m typing on my smartphone, one-handed, it is just as awkward as typing by looking at a keyboard – I’m probably slower than someone used to Hunt and Peck typing.

Text for communicating is here to stay

Since e-mail, we’ve been communicating via text more than ever. Then came SMSs on mobile phones. Now there’s WhatsApp. Because text is such a huge part of our lives, we need to improve the experience of text-entry on mobile devices; make it more pleasurable and efficient.

We need a new paradigm for text-entry on touchscreens: one without a keyboard.

What happened to speech-to-text?

You’d think speech-to-text entry would have taken off by now. It is so easy to say out loud what we want to say. Perhaps it’s the awkwardness and self-conciousness of talking to ourselves that we just won’t get used to. Well, maybe not.

It is not uncommon nowadays to see someone driving, engrossed in conversation, seemingly talking to themselves. And we’ve got voice-enabled assistants to talk to like Siri, Google Now, Cortana, Amazon Echo and Hound

More intuitive predictive text

Part of the text-entry solution to allow for faster typing is to improve software’s attempt to predict what we want to say. From my experience, it has to become more intuitive, learn our nuances to get better at ‘predicting’; help us and not embarrass us (did I really say procreate when I meant something completely different?).

Good-bye, keyboard: The future of input devices is (almost) here

This optimistic headline and article heralds many future input innovations, like gesture and speech recognition, wearables and BCI (brain computer interface) technology. Another non-keyboard text-entry solution appeared in New Scientist: Nerve-tapping neckband used in ‘telepathic’ chat.

But the promise of future inputs is still not here.

Recent news articles highlight keyboard Apps for mobile devices (some with ‘key’ or ‘board’ in their titles) – giving us more options – but don’t mention anything about getting rid of them:

Popular third-party keyboards

We can say goodbye to BlackBerry’s keyboard phone, though.

Perhaps something like Dasher could work?

In 2003, a CHI-SA conference was introduced to the Dasher Project by Roger Dawes, then an executive director of the Computer Society of South Africa. Dasher does not use a keyboard for text-entry:

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Dasher is an information-efficient text-entry interface, driven by natural continuous pointing gestures.
Inference Group: Dasher Project

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To learn more about how Dasher works:

When we can eventually type more easily on our mobile devices, then they can be called ‘smart’.