A few months ago, I joined the legion of smartphone augmented Übermensch permanently tethered to the world wide web. I’ve gone from overpaying for groceries to comparison shopping while at the store, from scrawling directions on scrap paper to navigating the backwoods of northern Michigan like local son, and from hazarding guesses to being able to find the answer to nigh any question instantly. It’s a very empowering experience in a lot of ways.
However as I marvel at this remarkable handheld device, I can’t help but feel it falls frustratingly short in one critical area—the input. For all of the power packed into this compact piece of hardware, the experience of tapping in addresses, text messages, and search queries feels decidedly old-school.
Alternatives do exist, but have yet to reach a level of polish that can be considered “ready for prime time”. Voice recognition, vastly improved from my experiences trying to dictate term papers in college using Dragon NaturallySpeaking, still confuses similarly sounding words and struggles with technical terms. Gestures in applications such as Dolphin Browser HD allow for a more natural navigation of websites, but don’t serve as a replacement for the keyboard when it comes to text input. Scanning in text using the camera is great for capturing blocks of text, but depending on your OS’s copy/paste functionality, it may still be a struggle to do anything useful with it.
While I marvel at how far we’ve come with technology in the last ten years, it is remarkable how far we have yet to go. As the smartphone becomes a more ubiquitous device over the next few years, I can only hope that the methods available to us for input will catch up with the devices themselves. The smaller the device, the harder it’s going to be for your typical user to hunt and peck their way through a text message. Or, maybe we’ll just adapt. Maybe the world record holder for speed typing is the real Übermensch.