Text Input on Tablets and Why This Needs Attention

me.jpgJames Kendrick has started a meme that should be an important one for Tablet manufacturers should be paying attention to. Essentially James’ point is that we don’t just consume media on our Tablets but we interact with them and that interaction needs some form of good text entry. This interaction can be using social media like Twitter and Facebook, to making a purchase online. As touch became the predominant focus for most mobile device and Tablet makers, I’ve been moaning and groaning that we should not forget the Inkers for some time now, and using digital Ink with a Tablet for text entry is my preferred method of doing so. So, you can call me a bit biased.

2009 has turned from the year of the Tablet to the year of Tablet promises, and things look somewhat positive for 2010, but history tells us to not hold our breath. But as we await what has been promised in the ways of Tablets or Pads, or whatever, I think James hit a big point squarely on the head. Eventually, users are going to want to interact. Yes, we’ll see virtual keyboards, and yes, we’ll see some methods of connecting a physical keyboard to some of these devices. (Bluetooth works wonderfully for this in my opinion.) But one of the real questions is whether or not the manufacturers and innovators see text entry as an important part of their strategy.

Ads and promotional videos hint at this sometimes, but in the case of Digital Ink the experience doesn’t really pan out to be successful. James mentions speech as a method, and while improvements continue to be made, speech hasn’t reached a point where it is a seen as a great success, or at least enough to capture the public’s imagination.

For my money the most effective and most efficient methods of entering text into a Tablet are Digital Ink with a stylus when you’re moving around, and with a wireless keyboard when you need to sit down and hammer out some data entry. I actually miss these days. Sure, I’ve become reasonably proficient with the iPhone’s virtual keyboard, but I can’t see this working well on devices with larger screen surfaces.

My prediction is this: most Tablet-like devices will have an initial curiosity and “wow” factor that fades over time when users discover that they can’t effectively and efficiently enter data when they need to. Those coffee tablet devices will end up collecting dust on those coffee tables when they aren’t being used as a TV or media center remote. Whether the device is a UMPC, an Apple Tablet, a Crunchpad, or a PMP/Tablet, sooner or later a user is going to need some form of efficient text entry, and that’s when they will drop their “companion device” (that’s code for it can’t do everything in case you’re wondering), and head to a computer with a keyboard, unless other workable options are available.

What do you think Tableteers? What’s your preferred method of text entry and what priorities do you think the manufacturers ought to be focusing on? What works best for you when you are on the go? What works best when you’re vegging out on your sofa or stall surfing?