I've said it a million times: software keyboards are alienating and clunky. They're not exactly comfortable to use and making mistakes is much easier to do on a virtual keyboard than it is on a physical one. What's worse is correcting said mistakes. Placing the cursor accurately can be a cumbersome and frustrating task. And neither the magnifying bubble in iOS or the drag-and-drop method in Android and Windows Phone make things any easier.
While the added display real estate of a tablet makes it great for many things, like viewing Web pages, watching movies from virtually anywhere and providing hours of non-stop entertainment, it only improves text entry and editing so much.
Nonetheless, I do it day in and day out. Most of you know by now I'm a tablet fiend and that I do a lot of my Web browsing and writing from the keyboard-less slabs. In fact, every article I have written in the past several weeks has been written almost entirely on either the Transformer Prime or a (new) iPad. (I usually only switch to my MacBook to publish.) In short, they keep me focused on a single task at a time versus trying to do everything at once from a PC.
But there are few who would argue that soft keyboards couldn't be better.
On an iPad, you are at the mercy of Apple's software engineers. And currently, there are only three different keyboard modes on the iPad: portrait, landscape and split. The landscape keyboard isn't all that bad. (It's what I'm using to write this.) The letters are nice and big, and all the essential keys are easily accessible. But make a single mistake and might find yourself stumbling all over the place, trying to fix a single typo.
On Android tablets, you have the luxury of downloading and trying out various keyboards. Finding a keyboard that suits your needs is as simple as a Google search or perusing soft keyboards in the Play Store. I typically use the stock Android keyboard for the majority of my Android tablet writing, and I use SwiftKey 3 when holding the tablet instead of propping it on a table or docking it in the keyboard attachment. The soft arrow keys in SwiftKey work wonders, but are still no match for a physical keyboard. (Oh, how I love the keyboard dock!)
Mobile software companies have yet to overcome the hurdles associated with editing text (copying, pasting, selecting, etc.) via touchscreen. Auto-correction and personalization software helps avoid typos, but does not snuff them out completely. Essentially, there is no great way to edit text on a tablet.
On Wednesday, however, a video was uploaded to YouTube by one Daniel Hooper, demoing a way that iPad text editing could be much better. The video begins with Hooper typing, ”Editing on iPad is slow. But it could be better.” He went on to show an altered version of the iPad keyboard that he made. Rather than tapping different parts of the text to move the cursor, he simply slid his finger across the keyboard laterally. To move the cursor faster (what looked to be an entire word at a time), he used two fingers. And to selected text, Hooper simply held the shift key while sliding another finger.
I want this, and I want it now. It's simple, effective, quick and (somewhat) intuitive. Just judging by how fast Hooper was typing, selecting, deleting and editing words, his mod seems to be quite effective and relatively easy to pick up on. (I would have to get over my learned habit of swiping right-to-left to delete the last word typed when using SwiftKey, that's for sure.) The only thing I would suggest, however, are hotkeys for copy and paste.
Lucky for us, something great will come of this one way or another.
Apple has been known to pick up developers, hackers and various software companies with great ideas in the past. Just last year, they hired 19-year-old iOS hacker, Nicholas Allegra, as an intern. Many speculated that Apple hired Allegra to beef up iOS security. And, as many of you may recall, Apple acquired Siri, a virtual assistant app, in April 2010 for use with iOS 5 on the iPhone 4S. Hopefully, something similar will happen here as Daniel Hooper certainly has some pretty impressive ideas. (The modest developer doesn't seem to be aiming for a job from the Cupertino-based tech company, and instead just asks YouTube viewers to submit a feature request directly to Apple.)
If Apple doesn't hire Hooper (or steal his idea), however, all hope will not be lost, as it is very likely either Hooper or another developer will create a similar jailbreak mod for the iPad. The only problem with that is it would only be available to those who are willing to sacrifice their warranty. Hey, you win some and lose some.
Either way, I can't wait for this feature to be on my iPad, officially or unofficially. What say you?