THE OVERRATED PHYSICAL KEYBOARD
I MEANT WELL
In November of 2009, I wrote an article (first one of this blog series) about “app phones”. (Smartphones.) At the time, the IPhone was blazing brilliantly through the firmament as Android (Google’s then new Iphone competitor) sat on a rock, watching wistfully.
MISTER ScienceAintSoBad‘s article was about Google’s (turned out to be successful) Droid app phone. Which has a physical keyboard.
I liked the phone. (Good job, me). For the wrong reason.
My article was about physical keyboards on phones – those compromis-y fingers-don’t-fit-things that slide under.
In my article, I clarified, nicely, the concept that I, and only I, “get it” where keyboards are concerned. I explained that physical keyboards mean you don’t have to use up precious screen space which I (not too originally) termed “real estate”. The “soft” (simulated) keyboards that show up on those teeny screens subtract from space you need to SEE what you are editing or writing (said I).
Why nobody ELSE observed this silly mistake on the part of phone innovators, I can’t say. But MISTER ScienceAintSoBad has, as mom used to say, “a real head on his shoulders”.
Strangely, though, for all their supposed advantages, I don’t have a physical keyboard on my own phone.
Isn’t that curious?
Well my mom (same one) used to say (about real estate) that they’re not making any more of it.
Which is true of the ground-y kinda real estate but not so true of the touch – screen-y kind. After all, phones ARE getting bigger. Some of the newer models come with handles on each end so your buddies can help you portage them through the weeds.
Which does make screen “real estate” less of a big deal. Doesn’t it?.
Still. MISTER SASB, at the moment, has a modest screen on his modest Android phone (a Droid Eris) and, yet, even I, feel no need for a clumsy sliding keyboard with clicky keys. So where was I wrong?
SOFT KEYBOARDS FINE
First of all, having gotten around to trying them, I gotta say that even the best of those miniaturized keyboards are kinda tough. OK for texting, I suppose, but you won’t be doing your thesis on one.
Bear in mind, I’ve seen teenagers use these things at jet speed without even looking.
But that’s teenagers. I’m not even gonna GO there. I’m talking about NORMAL people. OK?
Anyway, my real problem is that I was still thinking INSIDE that notorious “box” everyone talks about. I’m a touch typer and I’m used to a physical keyboard on my own PCs. And isn’t an app phone/smartphone a smallish PC?
Not really. See. That was my mistake.
Because, with an app phone (and unlike a PC) you can hold it up to your ear. Or put it in your pocket. Or walk into a sink hole, holding it in front of yer face.
As computers go, app phones are so personal that they’re INTIMATE. They go where you go. And that’s different, isn’t it? So you might use it in the doctor’s office.. Or propped up in bed. Or at the PO-lice station.
So popular “apps” tend to emphasize mobility. GPS and maps. Store payments. Casual entertainment and games.
Fart apps are popular.
So why sit straight up on your butt while your writing?
COOL (SOFT) KEYBOARDS + SKILLED USERS
I use mine standing, slouching, reclining, and upside down (me, that is). In other words, at times, and in ways, that call for a more innovative approach to inputing information.
And thus (and, at last) my point.
“Soft” keyboards? More than you can count. There are dozens and dozens – hundreds, actually – available as free and paid apps on the various smartphones. Big keys and small keys. All kinds of key arrangements and even new approaches to typing, itself. One that’s catching on, involves sliding the finger from key to key. The technique’s hard to describe. Swipe and Slide-It are two keyboards that use this strange but effective approach. At first, it’s seems ridiculous. But, you learn the keyboard, and the keyboard learns you. Gradually, your own vocabulary drains into the thing and your typing speed gets faster and faster. I AM still faster at a full sized keyboard, but I’m surprisingly good, glissading around that Slide-It thing . There’s also a peculiar side benefit. It’s kinda fun.
And do the pop up keyboards REALLY get in the way of what you’re editing, as I claimed in my first review? Well sure. Kind of. But it’s like anything, you get good at making it go away. You can flip yer ‘board up to type and down to look. Up to type and down to look.
It works. It really does.
TALKING INTO YOUR HAND
Why type if you can slide? And why slide if you can dictate?
Seriously. I’ve been using my phone to, for example, to right this article.
right? Did I say right? Well. Not perfect, I admit.
But, like the sliding keyboards, the dictation software which is basic to the Android phones (but certainly available on other phones) is adaptive. As I have, tentatively, used it more and more for serious writing, I am starting to appreciate the speed advantages of the voice input cycle. You speak a bit, correct the boo boos, and speak some more. You get good at this.It’s faster and easier than it sounds.
(It would have to be.)
A FINAL NOTE
I tried out the “soft” keyboard on the new XOOM tablet computer . Sliding? Voice recognition? Why would you do that? This is a keyboard that fits your fingers and works great. I haven’t tried the equivalent trick with an IPad but, surely, that’s nice too.
The benefits of ultra-portable, ultra-smart devices are already becoming clear but the best way to talk back at them is still evolving.
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