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29 June 2010Rolo Mawlabaux

Swype: Mobile touch screen text input revisited

  • django
  • keyboard
  • swype
  • touchscreen
Swype: Mobile touch screen text input revisited

I'm really not a fan of typing on touchscreen-only phones. I just can't type as fast on a touchscreen as I can on a slide out keyboard, so for me that easily justifies the tradeoff of having a slightly bigger device.

Trouble is, slide out keyboards seem to be going out of fashion fast, with no recent high end Android devices sporting one. I'm still driving a G1, and whilst it's the longest I've ever had a phone and been happy with it, it's a bit long in the tooth now, and causing conflict with my need to have the fastest shiniest hardware.

So far the only alternative to a touchscreen keyboard I'd come across was handwriting recognition. This is even worse - my handwriting's barely legible at the best of times, so I'm happy for it to be confined to greeting cards.

After conceding that I might just have to just get used to touchscreen typing, I recently found out about a new take on touchscreen text input, Swype. It's an Android app for text input which displays a QWERTY touchscreen keyboard on screen, but rather than typing a word you trace out a path (or "swype" it) from letter to letter. A dictionary predicts the words you intended as you go, meaning you don't have to be entirely accurate with the letters you're aiming for.

The creators of Swype claim that an average user should be able to hit 30 words a minute using it. Having only spent a day or so playing with it, I'm not as fast as I am on my slide out keyboard yet. I've just done an on the spot test now and I managed 61 words in a minute on my slide out keyboard with 3 mistakes, and 38 with Swype and 10 mistakes. I had to look at the keyboard the whole time with Swype as well. I wonder if this can be overcome with practice or if it's just a limitation of not having feedback from a touchscreen? I'm definitely getting quicker with Swype, and I'm sure I would with more practice, and also my G1 doesn't have nearly as large a screen as some newer devices which would help lots.

Whether or not it turns out to be useful, having a play with Swype made me realise that simply mimicking "traditional" non touchscreen forms of text input, like we do with touchscreen QWERTY or with handwriting recognition, needn't be the best way to enter text on our touchscreen only devices, so hopefully there's plenty more innovation to come in this area.


A quick search didn't reveal much else at the moment. Some researchers at Dartmouth College have created what's been nicknamed an "EyePhone", using eye tracking technology to control a mobile. Eye tracking's long been promised on the desktop, and you have to think that it'll be harder to solve on a mobile (although also more useful). Or maybe we'll just have to make do until the long fabled thought control turns up. You'd think that would beat all other forms of input eventually.

I'd be interested to hear about anything else.

Grab the Swype beta for Android.

Rumour has it that the HTC Scorpion might be the high powered Android device with keyboard I'm looking for, but as that's currently just a rumour from one source, I don't think I should count on it.

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