Thursday, November 11, 2010

Android Input - playing with 8Pen

I recently read about 8pen - a new input method for Android, created for touchscreen input, rather than adapting our existing keyboard to somehow function in a tiny space with no tactile feedback or input guidance.

I was reluctant to give 8pen a go, not because I could see there would be a significant learning curve, but because I resent paying for an app that I really am just wanting to try out.  I am curious by nature, and I mostly agree that adapting what we have used for years to fit our new devices is a little on the side of craziness.  However, they sadly don't do a limited trial, so I spent the ~$NZ 2.04 and installed the app. (By this stage I'd already watched the introductory video so knew what I was getting myself in for).

So, just to briefly give you the gist of 8pen without sending you off to their website to find out more - the characters are laid out in an X shape, with a central round area as below:
You enter characters by starting in the central circle, moving out to the region your letter is on, then moving around the X through up to 4 quadrants and finally returning to the central region - it's really hard to explain in words, but quite simple in action. 

An example: to input the letter r
  1. start with your finger in the inner circle, 
  2. drag out to the right hand quandrant, 
  3. then in the direction that the r is in (so anticlockwise), drag your finger through 2 quadrants (ending  in the left hand quadrant between blue & green)
  4. and finally return to the central circle.
Why 2 quadrants? Because the letter r is the 2nd one along the axis.  If you'd wanted f - the 3rd letter on the same axis, you'd have done the same, however you'd have gone around 3 quadrants instead of 2.

To input a word, you simply string together a whole bunch of letters without raising your finger.  If you raise your finger after inputting a letter, a space is implied.

So, I expect that's probably as clear as mud - as I said, it sounds really complicated in words.

What did I think of it after using it?  Well, I like the concept, I think the implementation is pretty good - easy to capitalise, add special characters, insert smileys and punctuation, however, and this is a killer for me, I found all those tiny but quite precise actions that required me to keep my finger on the surface of the phone quite problematic - my wrist became very sore very quickly, and the build-up of skin oils on the screen means that dragging your finger across the surface becomes more and more difficult. 

I did a comparison from a comfort perspective between 8pen and the standard android keyboard, and I do find that pecking at the various keys on the keyboard is actually much better for my hands - rather than using lots of tiny muscles to make small precise movements with a single finger, I use a couple of large muscles and move my whole hand to the various keys.

I wasn't quite sure what was going on with the predictive text part of 8pen, but I certainly didn't find it as accurate as the standard keyboard - it seemed to regularly think that I was trying to enter obscure words of at least 5 syllables when I was just trying to write 'testing' for example!

8pen has also implemented non-standard gestures that you can record - anything that doesn't start in the central section can be recorded as a gesture.  So for example, I get really sick of having to type my email address in. With 8pen, I created a single gesture which I could draw in the input area and have it translate to my full email address.  This I like.  But the physical aspects of using 8pen mean that it is a no-go for me I'm afraid.

1 comment:

Ioana-Carmen said...

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