Wireless Wonders

No news, just comment about mobile phones and services, from a veteran practitioner...3G, GPRS, WAP, Bluetooth, WiFi, etc...

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Faster typing...idea #31/100...

In the past, I've blogged about all kinds of data-entry methods for mobiles, including recently about Fastap (again). In my pondering of the mobile world, I seem to go through fits of enthusiasm for solving the various interface issues that dog mobiles. I think its actually an obsession....

Recent thoughts about the dual-screen approach of the Nintendo DS got me going again....

Predictive text, for all its ills, has some benefits. Generally, I find people either love it or hate it. Sometimes, users never quite figure out how it works. I do feel sorry for them. On some phones, the implementation is lousy and unintuitive.

I knew someone (I won't say who) who could never send me a text message, simply because they couldn't seem to get the words they wanted. Their problem was predictive text "messing" things up and they didn't know how to switch it off. (Actually, there are people in the mobile industry like this. What does that tell us?)

I don't mind predictive text, although I do get frustrated when I need to switch it off to do something "non-dictionary". Selecting the appropriate word-prediction is also a little clumsy.

[Note, please don't tell me how easy you, or your customers, find using predictive text. That might be, for "power texters", but consider it's only a temporary solution to a problem that still needs fixing.]

Some time ago, it occurred to me that maybe there's a way of making it easier...
Guess what...
It's a dual screen!

If you take a look at most mobile phone designs, the keypad design is pretty similar. There's the standard data-entry area, which is usually the 12-key alphanumerics. Then, above that, there's the "control area", which is some kind of selector (e.g. joypad) and action button combination (e.g. two-button screen control). Above all that is the screen.

Some phones have a wider array of controls. The NEC 338 is a good example and includes a rather nifty annular control, which is a button in the centre of a ring-shaped (donut) joypad.

The idea is to replace the control area with a small touch-sensitive screen. The beauty of using soft-buttons on a screen, instead of hard buttons, is that the soft buttons can be context sensitive. They are labeled according to the task being performed.

With judicious design, the soft buttons could enhance overall usability. Predictive text is one example. Often, when typing, certain predictions are more likely than others. If several of the predictions could be displayed at once on the touch-screen, the user simply hits the right selection, probably with the other thumb.

In fact, using a screen for the control area has all kinds of interesting possibilities...(which I'll either talk about later, or let you ponder....)

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