A few years ago, Bill Gates declared that the “keyboard and mouse are dead”. At the time he was referring to the advent of voice recognition, touch and gesture as a way of entering data. In practice its not been quite as simple as that, perhaps because the traditional PC has entered a period of decline, and is rapidly being replaced by a whole new generation of technologies in the form of smartphones and tablets.
Some of what Gates foresaw has come true, Siri on iPhone, along with touch on tablets has left us with little use of a mouse for these new devices, but the keyboard is still important. Its interesting to see that the new Windows 8 slates come with a keyboard, Bluetooth keyboards are available for iPads and Android Tablets, but for many people it still the on screen keyboard that offers the most used way of writing on a phone or tablet.
From the very beginning of the growth of the new devices, those on screen keyboards were a problem. Whole websites were created to present the funny things that word prediction came up with, many of which still circulate on facebook, and the keyboards themselves were often frustrating for those with a form of tremor or physical need as they required a high degree of touch accuracy for success.
Reinventing the keyboard has been a subject of a number of interesting projects over the years. Replacing the keyboard with morse code entry was one approach, “Dasher” where the predicted letters “flew” towards you on screen was another.
Most recently “Swype” a keyboard where you used your finger to glide between letters to create words, rather than tapping at them individually, was very widely used and in fact held the record for the fastest text messaging solution for some time. But at CSUN in San Diego a new product was being demonstrated and used by a lot of the delegates I met.
Fleksy is without doubt a great example of an innovation, and effort to “reinvent the wheel” which actually gives us a better wheel. It has a very simple premise, when we type we type words in patterns, those patterns are often quite distinct combing numbers of letters with location on a preset grid or keyboard layout. Taking this as its starting point, it allows you to start typing, typing at speed, on the keyboard provided. Don’t look at what you are typing, just keep going, and Felksy recognizes the patterns of touches you are making and converts those into words. Its possibly the first real touch typing app for mobile devices.
And it works amazingly well, coupled with a pretty smart word prediction tool, and some voice output it allows you to type really quickly, it’s a hundred times more effective than the build in keyboard on my iPhone and within 5 minutes of using it I was sold!
At CSUN I was clearly not the only one who has bought into this either, and those people using Fleksy included people with tremor (its very forgiving of slight variations in keypresses) People with Dyslexia (the gestures plus prediction mean you don’t have to look at the letters and words as they form) and people who were blind. The combination of swipe gestures with voice output makes this a great form of input for people with little or no sight.
So everyone was very excited, but a problem still exists. In this case its to do with Apple.
Apple will not allow you to replace their keyboard with Fleksy, which means that when you open your email and hit “reply” the Apple keyboard is still the default. Which is frustrating, when you have better option installed. Instead you have to open Fleksy, type your message and then send the text to an app. Once you are in that app then you are back to Apples keyboard. That really irritating and an example of how Apple’s tight ecosystem can stifle innovation rather than facilitate it.
I guess at some point this will change, or we may only end up with a fully functioning, usable Fleksy on Android or Windows, only time will tell. But until then, download Fleksy (its free) and start to explore – I promise you will never want to use anything else – at least not this week !