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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?



  1. cybertactix

    11/30/2009 at 9:15 am

    My preference is ink and I’ve been playing wiht voice input which works relatively well if you have the right hardware. Bluetooth keyboards work well, the problem is one of most compact (and arguably the best), the iGo (ThinkOutside) Universal is no longer manufactured.

  2. cybertactix

    11/30/2009 at 9:17 am

    There are however some new ways to interact with a computer under development that could significantly impact the concept ot a physical computer as a whole.

  3. Sumocat

    11/30/2009 at 9:21 am

    For mobile data entry, ink wins for me, but that’s because I often don’t need my data solely as text, but as words, colors, arrows, highlighting, and drawings.

    However, for straight text, based on my experience with the iPhone, I’d have to go with an onscreen thumb board on a capacitive touchscreen. For two thumbs, it’d have to be a split board, but I’d prefer a small board set in the corner for one thumb typing.

    In fact, I’d say the wide format of the Tablet PC TIP has been a flaw all along. One of the reasons I don’t frequently use the TIP keyboard is that it’s too wide. Wide is great for two hands, ten fingers, but not for one pen (or thumb). I’d operate it more quickly if the key arrangement was tighter and more square (the TIP in Windows 7 can go taller but not smaller).

  4. Jim

    11/30/2009 at 9:54 am

    handwriting recognition–for sure now with Windows 7 better tip and recognition

    I am with you too—lamenting the lack of active digitizers

    Also the pure tablet.

  5. John Kutzman

    11/30/2009 at 12:44 pm

    I’m now into my third week with a Motorola Droid and am struggling with trying to type on the tiny touch keyboard compared to the raised, separated keys on my old Motorola Q. I would cheerfully carry a bigger, heavier, device which combined the Q’s physical keyboard and directional keys with the Droid’s big screen.

  6. Ben

    11/30/2009 at 5:28 pm

    James and you are totally correct, I believe. That said, a “2nd class” pen interface, like we see on Windows, isn’t going to capture the public’s imagination either.

    I’d also like to use voice input a lot, but I don’t think it’s quite ready yet…and sometimes I don’t want everyone to hear what I write.

  7. everbrave

    11/30/2009 at 5:33 pm

    Keyboard is almost a “Gutenberg’s technology”! But, we are used to it, trained to use it efficiently and most OS are based on such an input device. In a short term basis, HWR is the way to go for mobile devices in my opinion, because it is natural and efficient enough for short texts.

  8. Stenoknight

    11/30/2009 at 11:26 pm

    Steno! Once virtual, customizable keyboards with haptic feedback come along, I’ll hopefully have whupped my current open source steno project into shape. Then we’ll have a real input revolution. Can you imagine typing 225 words per minute, as quickly as you can speak, with far less effort and risk of RSI than qwerty keyboard use? Infinitely customizable macros and commands tied to easily memorized syllables rather than arbitrary metakey combinations. Also, the steno keyboard only has 22 keys, so it’s easier to fit into a smaller space than any kind of qwerty layout. Steno is the ideal input method for countless tasks, conversational and compositional. We just need to wait until the hardware comes along — and it shouldn’t be much longer.

  9. mrwed

    12/01/2009 at 3:41 am

    I’d be happy to have a small keyboard in the corner that did predictive text as well as my smartphone does. Would it be terribly difficult for a developer simply to port over one of the smartphone keyboards–Touchpal, for instance?

  10. Brett Gilbertson

    12/01/2009 at 4:17 pm

    My experience is that most people are very suprised at the handwriting capabilities of the tip. Particularly in win 7. I think it is just a matter of cost and time now… As product costs continue to fall, more people will take it up. And more importantly, the mass market still has not experienced the device, so how on earth could they want it when they don’t really know what it is?

    I use handwritng in the tip a lot, but it took a long time to adjust and break old comfort modes (typing and mousing). It is easily much faster than typing on the iPhone for me, but not quite as fast as typing on a full sized keyboard. It is a very useful augmentation for me that allows me to work effectively in places like the train that I am on now…

    A slate is the best way to break those habits! It’s akin to learning a new language. It is much more efficient to go to a country that speaks it and be forced to speak it than sitting in a classroom learning about it… I use the slate when mobile and I dock when I’m in the office.

    I recently tried to replace the mouse on my desktop with the wacom bamboo, and I was suprised at how confronting the change was.

    We tried touch typing on a fujitsu t4310 yesterday, and it actually worked suprisingly well. I extended the keyboard out across the screen and it was actually pretty cool. It just lacked the automatic correction features of the iPhone to be practical. But that’s just a software issue…

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