I think the discussion on the iOS keyboard often mixes writing with editing. Personally, I believe the iOS keyboard is great for writing, because it’s just a normal keyboard, but iOS text selection is in serious need of an update, because it feels outdated.
He makes a good point, if you only consider one type of writing. But the act of writing can come in many different forms. It would depend on how the individual defines writing.
Perhaps Viticci would have made his point better if the verb typing replaced his use of writing. Certainly, the iOS keyboard allows one to simply type. But write? Only if your definition of writing is dump everything out of your head in a stream-of-consciousness with no care for fixing grammatical errors, typos or modifying something you said.
That type of writing may be a focus for blog writers like Viticci. But I would doubt that’s the only type or writing he performs on his iPad. Personally, I perform 4 types of writing on my iPad: emails, journal entries, blog posts, and Bible study notes. Two of the four activities take place in iA Writer, one in Mail and one in Day One. There are times when I simply want to perform a brain dump — journal entries for example. But even they would benefit from the improvements the iA Writer keyboard brings.
The truth is that typing on a digital keyboard results in more errors, despite how clever the autocorrect functionality is. Even a brain dump requires some modification when iOS makes a correction and the result is nothing like what you intended to type. And much of my writing requires swapping between apps — grabbing verses from my Bible app for example. Selecting text, copying and pasting, and typing would comprise what I call writing on my iPad. I’m creating a document that is made up of words to be used in a certain context. I’m not sure you can define that as anything but writing.
In linking to Viticci’s piece, Gruber has this to add:
As Viticci goes on to say, the answer is not adding more rows to the keyboard.
I couldn’t agree with that thought less. Every time I type in Mail or Day One on my iPad, I miss the extra line that exists on the iA Writer keyboard. And if stream-of-consciousness writing is the thrust of Viticci’s point, then an additional line on the keyboard is not a problem at all. That extra line means you see less of what you’ve already written, making editing less of a distraction (similar to IA Writer’s focus mode).
I stand by my original point. The iOS keyboard could be significantly improved with that additional line. Gruber and Viticci may be right that text selection itself could be improved. But for this writer, personal usage has shown that cursor placement is a key to making writing on my iPad more enjoyable. And iA Writer is where I’ve experienced that improvement.
The more I write on my iPad, the more I appreciate the device for this type of creation. It’s portable, easily accessible, and I’m less prone to distraction. And with writing applications making great use of iCloud and Dropbox, my data is always there and always in sync with my Macbook Pro.
The negative with writing on the iPad is typing. It’s a bit of a mixed bag experience — the iOS autocorrection is (at times) brilliant and I can fly along with confidence, knowing the OS is going to correct my typos. But when mistakes are made and are either not autocorrected, or autocorrected incorrectly, then the iPad becomes a less comfortable environment.
Now, using a physical keyboard goes a long way to improving the experience. Being able to use the arrow keys one character or one word at a time is a must have. Same for being able to use the Command key with the arrows to move to the beginning or end of a line, or select and entire chunk of text. The various conventions of iOS are well designed; the Loupe for placing the cursor in text, the pop up menu for Select, Copy, Paste, Define etc … these are clever designs solving a real problem for working with text in a touch environment.
But overall, as clever as these items are, their usage is still less than ideal. Working with a keyboard is preferred. The problem for me is I’ve never purchased a keyboard specifically for my iPad. I have one Apple bluetooth keyboard and it’s paired with my MBP. I could switch between the iPad and MBP, but as most of us know, pairing bluetooth devices on any Apple product can be a serious chore. Once connected, I tend to leave them as they are.
And so to the point of this longwinded article. Because I tend to type on the virtual keyboard, I’d love to see the iOS keyboard improve. Thankfully, Apple already has a well thought out example to
rip off follow. The more time I spend in iA Writer, the more I admire the ingenuity of Oliver Reichenstein and crew.
Compare the two keyboard layouts:
The top line on the keyboard adds the functionality that make working with a virtual keyboard more comfortable, removing friction. The two arrows on the right side move the cursor between characters. The two on the left move the cursor between words. Each of these makes navigating your text more efficient than tapping away on the screen.
Every time I type out an email on my iPad, I’m reminded of what iOS is missing. Using Mail’s keyboard is a significant reduction of efficiency compared with writing in iA Writer. Here’s hoping Apple recognizes the better design and embraces the approach.
While reading this piece on usability testing from 2007, this paragraph caught my attention:
During one such study I handed out diaries to ten users and asked them to describe incidents, over the ten days that followed, when they felt that their mobile phones had let them down. I asked them to describe a solution – even a magical one – to their situation which would guarantee them a successful outcome to the problems they had. The users sketched out all sorts of solutions: a stylus to take notes on their mobile during a call, a mobile which could text a fax, a mobile which could open word documents or texts whilst in the middle of a phone call.
Here we are, five years later, and people do all the activities he describes on their phones. Not just the tech savvy, but the normals, teens, pre-teens, and baby boomers alike. The magical is now the everyday.
What a shift.
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Kyle Baxter released his first iOS app today. It’s called Basil and it’s a cooking app for the iPad. Like Kyle, I also love to cook. And an app that uses large text to display instructions, as well as handle timing within a recipe, simply makes your job easier. Check it out.
Extra credits to Kyle for learning to program, then designing and shipping an app, all in 10 months. I’m seriously impressed.
Although this is not new news for anyone, I’ve been reminded of the importance of touch when working on iOS. I’m not of the mind that one should go out of the way to create or work on an iPad. It’s possible, but much less frictionless than working on my Macbook.
Still there are certain activities I prefer the iPad for. A weekly review is one, partially due to the complete embracing of the platform that the folks at OmniGroup have undertaken. OmniFocus on the iPad is a pleasure to use.
I’ve been moving the small team of five I work with to Basecamp. It’s an improvement over their prior setup. This means I’m now using two task inboxes, one for personal projects, one for work. That’s cool with me.
But my weekly reviews on the iPad have shown me the importance of the touch factor. Yes, I can use Basecamp on my iPad, but it’s no where near as comfortable — or pleasurable — than OmniFocus. Simply because OmniFocus was designed for the device.
If I’m the founder of a web based application, I’m looking for any resources possible to give iPad users a native front end to my service. Anything less adds friction and reduces the likelihood of customers sticking around.
I would love to see Siri come to the Mac. It was one of the major reasons I upgraded to the 4S.
The problem is, I, like others, rarely use it. It’s a combination of layers of friction: it requires forming new habits, the service is often down, and Siri often doesn’t understand what I say (my wife knows how Siri feels). Those three items on their own might be easy to overcome, but when you put them together, it’s been frustrating enough that I never think to use the service.
Having Siri available on the Mac would help me to force myself to make changes, simply due to the amount of time I spend on OS X.
My thoughts on Marco’s thoughts.