Swype, Gestures, and Input

I’ve been spending some time with a few Google Android Mobile devices, and one of the pieces of mobile life that I am getting a chance to re-explore is this idea of input and what does and doesn’t work so well.

Many people like and understand that hardware keyboards are efficient. It’s not so much because they were made to be efficient, but they do require less user friction in going from idea to ink, so to speak.

With the fun that so many people seem to be having witness touchscreen devices, a lot of folks aren’t thinking about the issues they I’ll have when it comes to inputing text. Yes, we know this idea of taking a hardware keyboard, and duplicating it’s look and near-functionality.i But that’s really an easy way out. Thinking about how we input text might start off by taking mechanical principles, but we’d do better to think about the medium, and adjust the behavior accordingly.

In the past, there were attempts such as Fitaly on the Palm and Windows Mobile platforms. But many of those input methods only went so far to make stylus input more efficient. They, stopped at the level of the tool, that is the stylus. Now, we have fingers, so how do sew approach things now.

There’s voice. Which works when implemented well. For all of the fun that Google Voice Search on Mobile is, you can’t navigate what you searched, just get to the page. Then there’s the built-in voice commands that we find on Symbian. And these too are good, but only go as far to commanding an action, not really interfacing or interacting with content.

So, when it comes go input we are back to the keyboard. Back to klick-clack. And you know what, it is terribly inefficient. We really need something a good bit better.

Swype is a direction to an answer. Swype plays in the fact that many of the touchscreen devices today use the kind of screen that’s respective to human touch, not a stylus, and designed a gesture-like system around it,

I played with it for a good bit yesterday with the Samsung Captivate that I’m reviewing and its an interesting concept. Thing is, behaviorally, it isn’t too far off from something really futuristic, such as a projection of a keyboard and then using pointing, eye tracking, and maybe voice to make input more “natural.”

Input is probably something that I need to pay attention to a good bit more. I don’t like the idea of inputting content on the iPad, and I do appreciate both the numerical keypad (virtual) and slide/tilt qwerty of my N97. The Nokia gives me options based on how I am holding the device, but neither are really so much optimized methods of input as they are shoehorned into there because of the accepted behaviors we’ve learning in holding these devices.

I think we will get to a point where interfaces such as Swype will not only be more commonplace, but accepted because we will not just try and use one input method for everything. Of course, until then there will be ts mental exercise of deciding what to use, and how best to use a mobile device which may not have the most optimal default means of inputting content.

Didn’t we learn from Star Trek the Next Generation that no one does input any more except to initiate research queries? Everything else is really just a question away.