I can’t replace my computer with an Android handset or tablet, and the reason isn’t power or speed or screen size or battery life. The big problem is input: getting my ideas, mostly in the form of text, into the device and onto the Net. I expect rapid progress on this front; herewith a short survey and my own proposal.
Yes, It’s a Problem · Here’s a strong claim: In this day and age, anyone who has had any success as a knowledge worker is an at-least-competent typist. And a second: None of the currently-available mobile-device input methods approach the performance of a well-built, responsive keyboard. Well, with the obvious exception of an outboard keyboard, but if you’re going to carry one of those around, why not just carry a computer?
Remember, Knowledge is a text-based application™.
Experimentation · In the Android world, input methods are freely replaceable, and developers are already offering replacements. I haven’t seen them all, but here are some I know about, in no particular order: SlideIT, FlexT9, SwiftKey, The 8pen, Chorded Keyboard, and Swype.
All of those but Swype are Android-Market links. Swype isn’t in Market because they do deals with handset makers to pre-install it on their phones, at a charge depending on how many units the maker is willing to guarantee.
Obviously, there are ways into your device that don’t involve a real or virtual keyboard; in the list above, FlexT9 integrates voice and The 8pen is something completely different. You can also do lots of things by talking to your Android device, but pretty well the only time I do that is in my car; I just feel like a dork talking to a computer in public.
I don’t have time or patience to do a comparative review of everything available, but somebody should, and if you already have, let me know and I’ll splice in a link right here.
But the message is clear: We’re getting out of the developers’ way, and if there is a solution out there, somebody’s gonna find it, and probably make some serious money.
The Digitator · Here’s my own idea, offered freely for anyone to build. The “digit” in the name refers to the digits of your hand, which work so well at entering text given a keyboard to pound on.
I’m thinking of a different kind of “Data Glove”, which is not a new idea by any means. At trade shows, I’ve seen any number of hideous hulking button-laden things you can wear on a hand and control a computer with; none of them have ever really caught on.
The Digitator is something different; it looks like a fingerless glove and you wear it on your non-dominant hand (left, in my case). It’s light and thin and only covers your first knuckle, and comes as a fashion statement in everything from basic black to spring magnolia, with or without sequins or other adornment.
Each of the five digit-sleeves has a sensor that detects deflection and impact. It works somewhat as a chording keyboard does; various combinations of finger/thumb motions transmit different characters. You have a lot more options than you do with your classic GKOS layout, because you can move your fingers, singly or in pairs, in multiple directions, and you can curl or bend or tap. I just held my left hand out and had no trouble thinking of thirty or so easily-distinguishable wiggles and taps in a couple of minutes.
I envision a future in which people hold their handsets or tablets up with one hand, and text leaps across the screen, driven by the other hand casually dancing on the arm of the chair or swinging by their thigh as they walk.
Wouldn’t that be cool? Anyhow, I’m pretty sure that something will come along.