New Ways to Enter Text Gaining Speed

As someone who regularly changes his primary mobile phone, I’m always having to adapt to new devices. For me, the biggest change has been the shift from a hardware qwerty keyboard to a virtual touch-screen one.

I type a lot of text on phones, whether it’s for e-mail, text messaging or Twitter updates. The growing proportion of new devices with touch screens means that I now spend much of my week typing on a virtual keyboard. The technology’s still developing, and on some days I long for old-fashioned hardware keys.

Last year I met Seattle-based Swype and was excited to see its new approach to the challenge of entering text on a touch screen. Rather than tapping away at individual letters on a virtual qwerty keyboard, users can rapidly enter text with a continuous finger motion across the screen. The video below shows Swype CEO Mike McSherry demonstrating how it’s done.

It’s a little daunting at first, but you soon get used to the revolutionary input method. I’ve found Swype’s dramatically improved how fast I can enter text on touch-screen devices. A further benefit is that Swype supports different devices and multiple operating systems, so I can enter text in the same way on all of them.

The founders of Swype are keenly aware of the importance of getting an early foothold with new input technology. Cliff Kushler, the company’s CTO, was one of the inventors of the now ubiquitous T9 predictive text technology. But T9 became the de facto standard for predictive text only after fighting off alternatives from companies like Zi.

The market’s poised for a similar battle over touch-screen input, with Swype facing competition from ShapeWriter, developed in IBM’s research labs, and SlideIT from Dasur, among others. Swype appears to have taken an early lead with the inclusion of its technology on T-Mobile devices in the US and integration on the recently announced Motorola Quench/Cliq XT.

As the technology matures, I look forward to the day when I can pick up a touch-screen phone with no hint of hesitation.