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Alternate data input methodologies July 25, 2007

Posted by samwyse in Uncategorized.

Over at Trevors Trinkets, there’s an interesting bit about chording keyboards that made the front page at Slashdot. Chording keyboards are nothing new (Douglas Engelbart invented one for use with his other invention), but Trevor seems to have come up with the idea independently. Or at least he has some fresh twists on the idea.

Over the years, lots of people have grappled with inventing something better than a keyboard for entering text into a computer. Trevor seems to see it as a single problem, but I see it broken down into subsets: input with and without feedback.

Input with feedback, of course, means that you have a control loop; you direct the input device to the characters and/or word that you wish to enter. The best example that I know of for this is Dasher, where you quite literally steer the device, but the category also includes word completion and predictive text. The weak link in all of these is that the user must devote full attention to the input system; it is unlikely that a correct trajectory through the universe of possible inputs will be memorized. (I suppose that a non-visual feedback mechanism would avoid this problem, but I cannot see any practical method by which audio or haptic feedback could be used.)

Input without feedback mostly consists of conventional and chorded keyboards. It avoids the attention problem, at the cost of reduced throughput. It also includes voice input, which is OK only as long as you don’t mind your neighbors overhearing your inputs.

Handwriting recognition is a bit of a hybrid. It frequently includes some sort of visual feedback, but you can quickly get good enough to enter text in complete darkness. My personal experiences with Palm’s Grafitti were that it was par with voice recognition, and rather slower than a keyboard.



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