Outrageous Outrages Shedding logical light on ridiculous and annoying things

What Apple Should Learn From Our Thumbs

Posted on March 20, 2010

I've carried an iPhone since the 3G came out and I use it all day long. In fact I'm writing this on my 3GS right now. The iPhone represents some truly amazing technology, and one feature I really like is auto-correction when I'm typing. Let's face it--a touch screen isn't tactile, and therefore it doesn't make for a very good keyboard. It seems like every fourth or fifth word I type has to be fixed by auto-correction, else my emails and text are completely illegible. It isn't always the savior of all thumbkind, many times it corrects things when it shouldn't (try typing grrrrr and see what it shows you) and sometimes it takes a perfectly-spelled word and replaces it with a different word altogether.

What I find completely outrageous about auto-correction is that it completely misses the boat on a few simple concepts. First of all, if it is smart enough to know I meant to type an 'e' instead of an 'r', or an 'm' instead of an 'n', why can't it be smart enough to realize I don't want to capitalize letters in the middle of my word? If you take a look at your keyboard, you'll notice that the A, S, and Z keys are really close to the shift key. If you're typing a word that includes the letters A, S, or Z, odds are you've accidentally hit the shift key more than once, and ended up with a frustrating result. The word sizzle becomes siZle. Press delete 3 times and type 'zzle' and you end up with siZzle. Now you have to press delete 4 times, toggle the shift, and again type 'zzle.' That's an awful lot of keystrokes to resolve the simple problem of having accidentally thumbed the shift key instead of the Z key.

It seems like it should be fairly simple for Apple to update the auto-correction to recognize that SHIFT is just as easy to mistype as any other key. Update after update comes out, and so far nobody seems to think it is worth fixing. Maybe they simply don't know about it. Perhaps all the testers at apple have pencil erasers for thumbs, or they only type words that use the middle of the keyboard. I don't think it would be very hard, however, for them to code in some extra intelligence to solve this. Maybe if enough people consider it a priority and bring it to their attention, they'll decide to do something about it and make a great device even greater.

I also have issues with the space bar, and the area of the screen just above the keyboard. This is probably because I'm a fast typer, over 150wpm on a regular keyboard, and faster than any of my friends on an iPhone. Technically speaking, these aren't quite as easy to fix as the shift key, so I'm not formally suggesting it be done. It would be pretty hard for them to figure out that I'm not typing two different poorly-spelled words when I smack the space bar with my thumb while typing, or that I didn't really want to jump down several lines on the screen when my thumbs miss high and land above the top row. It sure would be nice though. Until then I'll try and slow it down a bit.

Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Posted by Reed

Comments (8) Trackbacks (0)
  1. While I am not an iAnything user, I agree that touch-sensitive controls really need to be looked at. Keyboards specifically. I’m quite appreciative that the default keyboard is QWERTY, but in the interests of being inclusive, how difficult would it be to switch the keyboard layout to Dvorak (not my style), or even -gasp- alphabetical?

    Autocorrect has been a gripe of mine for years, thanks to Word, but I think its features are preferable to the ones detailed in your article, Reed. A lot of work really needs to be done to make autocorrect work as it should in most (if not all) cases, and I agree that edge cases (har har har) like the Shift key and spacebar really need to be considered part of the keyboard and correction process.

    • Too true. I’m certainly not going to turn autocorrect off, but a company the size of Apple seems to have the resources to “innovate” around the edges, as you say. :)

  2. I completely agree. I have several of these same issues on a daily basis with my iPhone. Another frustrating aspect for me is when I want to use some sort of slang and the autocorrect feature “smartly” replaces my “cool” word with something intelligent and completely wrong. The other big problem I run into on a regular basis is the tiny little X mark to tap if you dont want the word that the autocorrect feature has chosen for you…If you miss the X you choose the word you didnt want…

    • I second that! “coolies” auto-corrects to “cookies”… *sigh*

      And LOL @ “grrrrr” … “Ferret!”

      • I was wondering when someone would type ‘grrrrr’ into an iPhone to see what it says. :)

        Nothing like being frustrated, typine ‘grrrrr!’ and your friend seeing “ferret!”

  3. I have super thumb typed many a thing since I got my iphone. :) I do have to agree about the capitalization problem… i type fast – very fast, and when I have to spend 30 seconds to figure out why my word says alwAyZ instead of ‘always’ I get pretty irritated. I often send half written messages also, because the send button is so close to the P and O and when I am in a hurry my fat thumbs start doing crazy things.
    I do hope they fix it soon! It would be cool if they made it like the blackberry storm where you can actually feel the buttons on the screen!

  4. I wonder how feasible it would be to hack together a modified Levenshtein edit-distance algorihtm (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levenshtein_distance) that considered non-alphanumeric operations like shift as an additional edit operation with an especially high “cost”.

    It could be a neat way to get a heuristic spelling algorithm. Needs more thought I think, maybe I misunderstand the problem. I’m too poor for an iPhone because I give away all of my brilliant ideas as blog comments *ducks*

    - Dan

  5. I turned off auto-correct. I just couldn’t deal with it anymore!


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