Any reasonable person will readily admit that reading and writing text messages on a smartphone while driving, regardless of how large the phone's screen or the text is, is a dangerous distraction. There are statistics on the number deaths and injuries caused by distracted drivers, but I've covered some of that in an earlier article so I won't go into that here.
Texting while driving is bad, yet I've seen cops and cab drivers do it, moms with kids in tow do it, young drivers with a car full of friends do it, and I've done it on occasion. I never hold a lengthy conversation, and I try to read and respond while stopped at lights, and while I restate that it is not something I do a lot, I admit I've done it, and will likely do it again.
I understand the attraction of texting versus a phone call. Text is personal, no one can hear what you're saying unless you let them read it. Also, text is not bound by time, you can write or read it anytime and you can likewise respond anytime. It's just not good to do so while driving.
OK, I won't belabor the point, but since we're on the subject of texting, I wondered recently if the task of texting couldn't be improved somehow. Apple tends the follow the axiom that states that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Texting on an iPhone is fairly painless and, if you're in a quiet environment, you don't even have to type, you can just let your phone transcribe your spoken words into typed text. Better still, if your message is fairly short, you can just tell Siri to write and send it.
Voice typed messaging is interesting, but most people choose to tap in what they have to say, so a logical place for improving the act of texting might be the typing process. As it turns out there are some really interesting keyboard alternatives, all claiming to make the chore of typing easier. I've taken a looking at two and that's what I'm going to talk about this week. I've added a cool little app in the mix that I think you'll enjoy regardless of your proclivity to texting. So lets get to it.
MessagEase [3.9 MB, all iOS devices, iOS 4.0 or later, Developer: Exideas]
The QWERTY keyboard works great if you have a full sized physical keyboard sitting in front of you, and you've practiced using it. On mobile devices however, the QWERTY keyboard loses a lot of its charm and usefulness. Muscle memory won't help because you've learned to use the keyboard with two hands. An iPhone was designed to be used with one hand. MessagEase aims to to bridge that gap by leveraging the best of both worlds.
Looks odd, but MessagEase's keyboard is logical
The twenty six letters of the English alphabet and common punctuation characters have been thoughtfully arranged on nine keys, there's also a large space key, backspace, return, function key, and a key to bring up the number keypad. Each of the nine letter keys have major and minor letters assigned to them.
To use the keyboard you tap to get the major letters, swipe to get the minor ones. It takes a bit of getting use to, but after a bit of practice you begin to see the logic behind this arrangement.
The function key lets you copy the text to other apps and access services and the numeric keypad also hold other punctuation marks.
MessagEase function screen has a lot to offer
The apps also includes a tutoring game to help you learn the keyboard arrangement faster, a thoughtful and needed function.
The problem with MessagEase, and every other keyboard alternative app, is that the keyboard cannot be accessed from within a text app, you have to use MessagEase to create your missives, then copy them to the output app of choice. This cumbersome level of indirection will keep apps like these from ever going mainstream until Apple allows developers more access to the inner workings of iOS.
Still MessagEase is an interesting take on text input and it's worth a look.
Fleksy [36.4 MB, all iOS devices, iOS 5.1 or later, Developer: Syntellia Inc.]
While we may not instinctively know exactly where a key is on a shrunken QWERTY keyboard, we can approximate where the letter should be, and that what the folks behind Fleksy is leveraging with their cool keyboard alternative. The app is designed for one-hand, thumb input, and you don't even have to look at the screen to enter text. In fact, Fleksy claims that you can enter text completely blindfolded.
I thumbed this in with my eyes closed!
I tried it and to my amazement, it works. How Fleksy achieves this magic is nothing short of ... magic.
Open the app and at the bottom of the screen you'll find an area where letters are arranged in the familiar QWERTY pattern. Use your thumb and start tapping away. You don't have to actually hit the letter you're after, just get close. Swipe right to add a space and the app verbally announces the word it thinks you wanted. Usually it's right, but alternatives appear above the keyboard, including the jumble of letters you tapped in.
Fleksy's help guide comes in handy
Swipe right twice to add punctuation, left to delete what you've just typed, down to get an alternative suggestion. Other actions yield numbers and other punctuations. As with MessagEase, there's a learning curve, but I found it to be rather short with Fleksy. And as I mentioned earlier, you'll have to paste you're text into your communication app of choice, Fleksy can't work within those apps.
As keyboard alternatives go, Fleksy is clearly impressive. I'm hoping Apple buys them or at least opens iOS to allow alternative keyboards. If they do, Fleksy is the one I'd pick.
Glyph-O-Rama [292 KB, all iOS devices, iOS 3.0 or later, Developer: BananaGlue GmbH.]
Ok, this one is just plain fun. You know all those special characters that are part of the standard ASCII character set? You know, stuff like ☮, ☃, and ☭? There's no easy way to get to those characters with the keyboard provided by Apple, but they are there. The free app, Glyph-O-Rama, can get you access to them.
Characters you wouldn't normally have access to you now have through Glyph-O-Rama
Just fire up the app, select a character, go to your text app of choice and paste. It's that easy. Glyph-O-Rama opens eighty four seldom used, but nonetheless fun characters.
Why bother with these glyphs when you have emoticons? Because emoticons are not universal. Most become gibberish when you use them in messages to any non-iOS device. The characters in Glyph-O-Rama are all standard on every US device that uses a keyboard. So ☞ will always be ☞ regardless of who you send it to.
And to add an extra bit of fun Glyph-O-Rama includes a nice selection of ASCII art, one line pix made up of ASCII characters, and you can paste them easily as well.
Grab Glyph-O-Rama. You'll use it.
That's a wrap for this week.
Make sure you check out Bird Zapper, this week's free App of the Week. It's a multiplayer puzzler that looks like a lot of fun.