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It hit me yesterday, when I was reading fellow blogger <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/blog/main/archives/2008/05/i_stink_at_typi.html">Eric Zeman's complaint</a> about the difficulties he's had typing accurately on the iPhone's soft keyboard. That's a problem I've kvetched about constantly, most recently in <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/blog/main/archives/2008/04/5_areas_where_a.html">"5 Areas Where Apple's iPhone Falls Short</a>." But I think I've figured out the solution, an

Alexander Wolfe

May 6, 2008

3 Min Read

It hit me yesterday, when I was reading fellow blogger Eric Zeman's complaint about the difficulties he's had typing accurately on the iPhone's soft keyboard. That's a problem I've kvetched about constantly, most recently in "5 Areas Where Apple's iPhone Falls Short." But I think I've figured out the solution, and, surprisingly, it's not a hard keypad a la my beloved BlackBerry.True, I've been lobbying for a hard keyboard for a long time, mostly because it's the best way to ensure highly accurate SMS messages and e-mails. While some iPhone users claim to love Apple's predictive typing feature, where the software automatically pops in the word it thinks you're intending to type, more often than not you're actually slowed down. (For example, if you're typing in "vo," you might want to type "vodka," but the software thinks you mean "vote.")

Realistically, though, a hard keyboard isn't an option for the iPhone. With all things out of Steve Jobs's operation, style is truly important. An iPhone with a hard keyboard grafted onto it would look something like the electronic gadget version of an emu. Not good. So here's the answer: It's Palm Inc.'s cursive-handwriting recognition. This is 1990s technology which was wildly popular with users of the early Palm Pilot devices. It had a short learning curve, worked fairly well, and -- most important -- is highly compatible, look-and-feel-wise, with the iPhone. All Apple would have to do (other than incorporating the software) is cut out a hole in the side of the phone for storing the stylus. (They'd also have to offer replacement stylus packs on the Apple Store. At least, for me they would.) Here's an even better idea: How about Apple buys Palm? The Treo maker (that's now Palm's flagship product) has been sagging badly in the past few years, as it's been flailing around trying to find the right combination of platform and operating system. Its Treo line, which uses Windows Mobile, is impressive and has many fans. Unfortunately, it's up against tough competition from the iPhone and BlackBerry. Apple's clearly not averse to acquisitions, since it bought PA Semi, a fabless designer of low-power chips, a few weeks ago for $273 million. The thinking is that the PA Semi purchase is part of an Apple strategy to corral some of the design smarts needed to create all of the iPhone's components in-house. Purchasing Palm would give Apple a second leg of the puzzle, with a lot of hardware design stuff to choose from, too. Oh, yeah, one more thing: Long-time Apple watchers are going to chide me for not mentioning Newton. That was Apple's 1990s PDA, which was so far ahead of its time it failed. (Indeed, Newton preceded the Palm Pilots, which were the first ubiquitous PDAs. Newton debuted in 1993; Palm in 1996.) Anyway, the Newton 2.0 operating system included a cursive handwriting recognizer. So it's possible that Apple actually has all this technology in house, and could implement it on the iPhone itself, without any outside help. I mentioned Palm because its cursive recognizer is the canonical example of the technology, and was wildly popular. So, what do you think? Cursive recognition for the iPhone? Or should we just stick with the current, crappy software keyboard, and call it a day? Like this blog? Subscribe to its RSS feed, here. For a mobile experience, follow my daily observations on Twitter. Check out my tech videos on this YouTube channel.

About the Author(s)

Alexander Wolfe


Alexander Wolfe is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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