Wednesday, 1 July 2009

What's wrong with using a virtual keyboard? Something according to Swype

You may have heard about Swype recently. It’s from the makers of T9 text input. Well, they’re on the PR offensive again.

In case you’re not sure what Swype is, here is some copy from their latest press release entitled “The Quest to Make a Better Virtual Keyboard”:

“The users holds down their finger and drag it from one letter to the next until they’ve spelled out a word. It’s surprisingly forgiving, so if you just barely miss one of the letters, it will probably still recognize it.”


(you’re guess at what’s being Swyped is as good as mine. Swype’s guess will be better apparently)


What’s wrong with using a virtual keyboard the way it is? A full key (or QWERTY) keyboard has the majority of characters you need available to quickly bash out an email or SMS (and if you have predictive text switched on it’s really quick!). A full keyboard is also an item that many people have grown used to, whether it’s a keyboard at work, on their iPhone, windows mobile or Android device. Swypes legacy, T9, was a good product because it changed they way people used their phones for messaging over a decade ago. It’s now an iconic product. (Love it or hate it) It evolved from a need for better text entry on 12 key devices. I’d be reluctant to say there is a need to change the way we use a virtual full keyboard though.


Using Swype requires the user to learn a new way of inputting text. Why? What’s the benefit? Swype guesses what I’ve typed after I’ve moved my finger (or stylus by the looks of the screenshots) around like I’m chasing an ant on the screen. I don’t want my predictive text to tell me what I’ve typed after I’ve “Swyped” it. It’s not predictive text then is it? And if it doesn’t predict what I’m typing, how am I saving keystrokes, or typing faster? It doesn’t seem as if I would be. I’d still have to Swype over every letter. What if it gets it wrong? I’ll still have to manually input the word. Wouldn’t I be better just typing?


Swpye’s objective is to “[be] the default text input on all devices, ranging from phones to tablets, TVs and other surfaces”. I’m not convinced. The user faces a steep learning curve learning how to swipe including a range of gestures that steer away from what you’re possibly used to if, for example, you use a windows mobile device. And it doesn’t appear to add any value to the user.


So, will it make me text quicker and more efficiently or improve my experience?


I doubt it.

4 comments:

Thekey said...

Just saw the Video of Swype and after seeing that I thought some of the points in the post were debatable-:

"What if it gets it wrong...still have to manually input the word": In the Video all one had to do was touch the incorrect word and list of options appear. While the correctness of these suggested options is unknown, it is an elegant error correcting mechanism

"Its not predictive text": I think the issue with "input" is not so much to do with prediction but more to do with simplicity and speed. Does Swype come out better in these two aspects is something that can be evaluated.

"The user faces a steep learning curve learning how to swipe": In the current virtual keypads, using a stylus or a finger does not seem to be as comfortable as a Qwerty device (for me). A swipe-kind of mechanism might actually be more usable in Soft Interfaces.

snikt said...

Hi Thekey

Thanks for visiting and reading the blog.

On your comments:
“In the Video all one had to do was touch the incorrect word and list of options appear. While the correctness of these suggested options is unknown, it is an elegant error correcting mechanism”:
It has basic error correction, which is only a good thing. I appreciate that. But, and I’m only speculating from reading the product info, it appears to be proximity correction and correcting mixed letters (info does say misspelled but writing "teh" and it correcting it to "the" isn't groundbreaking). There is a generation of people around now (the next generation) that just cant spell (or don’t want to) - text speak, micro blogging speak - and if Swype intends to be used by everyone, users are going to find it difficult to adopt, e.g., text speak with this solution, even if it does have a 65K word dictionary. Swype isn’t a mass product – it seems more like an enterprise solution.

“I think the issue with "input" is not so much to do with prediction but more to do with simplicity and speed. Does Swype come out better in these two aspects is something that can be evaluated”:
OK, tests will have to be done, i agree. However, text prediction (and accurate prediction at that) enhances speed and i'd argue it enhances simplicity too. if the user is offered accurate prediction, they'll type faster since there is no need to "tap-tap-tap" as many keys.

“In the current virtual keypads, using a stylus or a finger does not seem to be as comfortable as a Qwerty device (for me). A swipe-kind of mechanism might actually be more usable in Soft Interfaces”:
That point is subjective (as is the blog!). Personally I’m comfortable using the soft keyboard (in landscape) on my G1 (see previous blog post) and so i really don't see the need for a Swype style of input as i doubt how usable it is for the masses. But, as i said, that's subjective.

Thanks again for your comments

Sparky said...

I'd use it. I could imagine my swyping might get a bit sloppy though!

Oh and I'm guessing it's spelling 'quick'?

xx

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