Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?

Alternative Text Input Methods? 20

A reader asks: "I've been tentatively researching existing solutions to enter text without a full (QWERTY) keyboard, and besides touchpads, morse code, and the system used in mobile phones (added with dictionary-powered predictive methods) and some wild gesture-based ideas I've come with the following systems: chording, as exemplified in some of the keyboards in this gallery, and Thumbscript (which is patented). Does anybody know any other good methods to enter text on a limited keypad? This issue is likely to become more important as new, smaller devices of all types enter the market." Interesting question. Devices that are already in the market (and those soon to hit the market) which are designed to be portable in size (but not in functionality), this will be a huge issue. Try editing song titles on today's portable MP3 player or writing a paper on your Palm. It's doable but not very pleasant. Such alternative methods would be a welcome addition to such devices.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Alternative Text Input Methods?

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Shashdot has had this topic before... Surprised no one else remembered. 57.shtml []
  • Why are we trying to cram effective text input onto a cell phone, PDA, MP3 player, or similiar devices? I can see the use, but I see it as more useful if we have a bluetooth or similiar system, where the cpu/main unit can be 1 inch square, and you can use mini/full size/whatever input device via short range wireless link? Added advantage is share phone books, etc, a good thing betewwn phone and pda.. that way, I can carry one keyboard for my cell phone and pda... it'd be nice to see something like that. I know, bluetooth, but I don't see it as useful yet..

    bash: ispell: command not found
  • Ah, meta-meta-weblogs... :) A couple weeks ago that article was discussed [] nicely on K5. Not terribly detailed, but a couple more tidbits there. (Note that the Japanese apparently love their T9-like system for mobile phone text messaging.)
  • by unitron ( 5733 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @04:52PM (#147523) Homepage Journal
    If you have number keys 0-9 and 7 or more other keys, then use one to toggle into hexadecimal mode, and enter the hex codes for ASCII (which you'll eventually memorize after having to look them up constantly).
  • A company called Infogrip [] makes a keyboard similiar to this. It has seven keys, four cording and three meta. It looks kinda cool, but runs about $200, so out of my price range to get one for playing with.
  • by Zerth ( 26112 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @11:10AM (#147525)
    A 9 key method that I like, and that was on slashdot a very long time ago [], is quikwriting [].

    The original version is similar to thumbscript(having 9 keys, each letter being made of multiple keys), but more complex(81 in thumbscript vs 128 in the simple version).

    Also, since the last time I checked the site, they have also come out with a new 18 key version(two side by side 3X3 grids) that takes better advantage of a palm's writing space.

    One nice feature is that it is a continous system, so if you are using a palm or something, you never have to lift your stylus.

    It is free for personal use, but you have to contact them about any commercial use.
  • What ever happend to the old UNIX adage that every program should do one thing and it should interact with everything else?

    What happened was the other UNIX adage, "Everything should use similar input". That's why shells now accept "vi" editing commands, and why csh and tcsh are often frowned upon (quite powerful, but breaks the Bourne Shell standard).

    Personally, I think that we will end up with two dozen different handheld input methods until one gains clearcut approval (or Microsoft makes one proprietary, whichever comes first). This will be nasty.

  • To at least attempt to keep this comment somewhat on topic:

    Regarding Thumbscript - while it is patented, the developer has been kind enough to allow for hobbiest type licensing, which you have to sign up for, allowing you to develop thumbscript applications that will have no immediate commercial bearing. The license is currently free. Since there is no proprietary hardware involved, and no proprietary software involved, what you are basically licensing is the input method, not anything else. I consider this a fair thing of the inventor to have done.

    And now, the rant:

    I knew a Thumbscript link would show up sooner or later! I posted a story on it not too long ago, yet it was rejected:

    2001-06-10 06:14:09 Graffiti Alternative? (developers,pilot) (rejected)

    Why? Not too long after (the next fscking day!), I posted a comment [] on the wearables story about Thumbscript!

    This is crazy! While I understand that the posters pick and choose stories based on their daily whims, I tend to wonder what those whims are? I tend to wonder why certain stories are rejected, while others (especially in the Ask Slashdot section) are accepted? Why is it that an Ask /. story that can easily be answered by a query on Google gets accepted (time after time), while a more relevant link to something else gets rejected? Worst of all, the submitter never gets to know why it was rejected, so he can never alter his writing style, or know what to do differently, the next time he posts...

    It is frustrating to say the least...

    Worldcom [] - Generation Duh!
  • The arbitrariness (is that a word?) of it all is most frustrating - the fact is I have had several "Ask /.'s" posted before. The one about Thumbscript I decided to post about immediately after seeing it in the new copy of Nuts and Volts (June 2001) - I had received it the day I posted it. I found it most interesting because of the "terms" the inventor held out regarding licensing for hobbiest use. Very fair, IMO, and unusual. I decided to post it as an article - maybe I picked the wrong topic/area (and if I did, why couldn't they just change it to something more appropriate? Are they editors, or monkeys?)...

    I am rather suprised that a story wasn't posted sooner than it was - I just can't figure it out...

    Worldcom [] - Generation Duh!
  • the special button would have to be extremely well engineered, as it would be pressed somewhere between 50 and 66 percent of the time.... sounds like trouble...

    although, if the special button was away from the rest of the keyboard (if the keyboard is one handed... maybe put the special key on the other hand, or maybe a foot thing) it might end up being very neat.

  • Let's have just 5 buttons for all fingers of one hand. It gives 31 "chords" to produce 31 characters (32-th all-off chord should not generate a symbol). Add 6th button for mode switch (akin of num lock) and you have 62 characters -- enough for Latin alphabet (upcase only), 10 digits, punctuation and things like cursor movement.

    Such an array on 6 buttons could be perfect for one-hand use and small devices, just the size to conveniently fit in a hand. Text entry speed can be quite high, provided that chords are designed carefully and logically. This does not take unusual hardware, too. Of course, learning curve for such a thing is much steeper that for conventional keyboard, because there is no visual clue what chord would produce which character.

    I heard of such a thing being successfully used in military aircraft -- arguably, a fighter jet pilot cannot sacrifice both hands for rapid data entry and would hate to move hands too much at several g's. If it may prove useful in consumer electronics, is more doubtful :-)

  • A fairly new site, [], all about how users interface with computers and other eletronic equiptment. had a piece on this topic in late May called '10 big finger', all about "How do we get text into small gizmos quickly and accurately?". It is fairly detailed, and links to many different sources of information about just this kind of thing. Exactly what you're looking for!

    The story can be found here [].

    And register for an account and get a really low user id number. I know I did. You never know, in 5 years, you might get to gloat about it... ;)

    Hope this is of some help.

  • by Xenex ( 97062 )
    On the topic of T9, I've had my Nokia 6210 for about 6 months now. With predictive text on, I can type messages really quickly. Once you've used it, you can't go back to a 'lesser' form of T9. (I can't send messages from friends phones anymore...)

    If anyone doesn't know what predictive text input is, basically the phone has a mini dictionary built in, and you just press the number the letter you want is on [b]once[/b], and it guesses what the word you want is. Eg: 843 would guess 'the'.

    It works really well, and on devices like mobile phones, where text input isn't the whole purpose on the device, it would do just fine.

  • by mini me ( 132455 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @09:20AM (#147533)
    What if all of these new-fangled gadets didn't have any method of text entry on them what-so-ever? I mean how often do you have to change the song title on a MP3 player and why would you ever want to write a paper on your palm?

    What ever happend to the old UNIX adage that every program should do one thing and it should interact with everything else? The same applies to these new devices. Your cell phone should do nothing more than send/recieve phone calls, your PDA should do nothing more than keep appointments and an address book and your MP3 player should do nothing more than play MP3s. Now where this comes together is bluetooth. Now you want to call someone who's phone number is entered into your PDA, no problem, just bring up the entry, hit dial and your PDA will tell your cell phone to dial that number.

    No back to the text entry. What if you had one keyboard that would allow you to enter into every device out there? This could even be a portable computer. Size here wouldn't be an issue, if you want a full sized keyboard to change your MP3 song title no problem, if you want to use a small keypad with the same MP3 player again, no problem! The key here is to get every device to speak the same langauge. It all goes back to creating a standard, and sticking to it!

    I think that they are trying to put too much duplicate functionality into all these devices. The focus should change to making each device do one thing, and do it well.
  • by dstone ( 191334 ) on Monday June 18, 2001 @05:49PM (#147534) Homepage
    The focus should change to making each device do one thing, and do it well. Your cell phone should do nothing more than send/recieve phone calls, your PDA should do nothing more than keep appointments and an address book and your MP3 player should do nothing more than play MP3s.

    That philosophy is great for command line Unix utilities, but I don't think it scales well to real-life gadgets. Does anyone really want half a dozen devices hanging off their belt or in their pockets? 1. keyboard/input device, 2. MP3 player, 3. phone, 4/5. calendar/contacts, 6. game, 7. etc. In my opinion, one device can do all of the above in a space about the same size as a small phone or PDA. As I see it, RAM/ROM isn't the problem. Display technology isn't the problem. Embedded software techniques aren't the problem. It's really just a good, compact input method that's missing (as the original thread points out).
  • If were talking mostly about smaller devices, T9 would seem hard to beat. For doing straight text, it surprisingly passable. If the key rate on my phone was adjustable, it would be better. The only failing it seems to really have is when you need to mix words and numbers. I might even go so far to say it's comparable to those keyboards mapped onto screens of pda's.

    But truthfully I wouldn't think the smaller consumer electronics will be terribly convienet for data entry until speech to text software is pretty usuable at those levels. And even then I would suspect foldable keyboards or other systems will still have their place. Sometimes silence is golden.

  • I'd say more. What would be really cool is to be able to talk the phone/PDA/whatever

  • On my mobile phone, I can do just that. Here's the keystrokes for hello world:

    There is no need for a special key, after a little time the cursor advances one step forward. If that time interval was adjustable, I suppose you could write rather fluently on such a keyboeard.

  • How about a keyboard where every key had two letters, one push for an A, two for a B, and a special button to move to the next letter? If I can learn the keyboard, certainly I can learn to use that fairly well.
  • I think that they are trying to put too much duplicate functionality into all these devices. The focus should change to making each device do one thing, and do it well.

    Yes, but if all of these devices are given so much extra functionality, then we can have fun dealing with viruses attacking everything. Just imagine: a ten line script could make every cell phone, PDA, MP3 player, computer, and toaster completely useless in a matter of hours. Come on! This is what everyone wants. It helps cure boredom!

    And why should such devices have a keyboard? So that thirteen year old kids can write the viruses while they are sitting in class waiting for the bell to ring.

Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success. -- Christopher Lascl