I consider myself a pretty good typist. On a good day I manage to churn out around 2,000 words in an hour and that’s without ever looking down at the keyboard or the screen. I write for a living and so I’ve gotten to the point where it feels almost as natural as talking.
But that’s not to say that typing is perfect or without limitations. For starters it’s not for everybody – those with disabilities often struggle to type efficiently while others simply take a long time to learn to type.
Furthermore, typing requires you to have both hands available and probably a surface you can learn on – which means sitting down at a desk to write and not being able to do anything else (multitasking with typing is pretty much impossible).
And finally, typing still isn’t really all that efficient. Even at 2,000 words an hour that’s much slower than you would be able to speak the same amount, and when you try to translate the process onto a small touchscreen you find that that slows down further.
So what other options are there? If you want to write while at the same time doing the washing, if you don’t have full use of your hands or can’t get to a desk and keyboard setup, or if you just want to try and go faster than your current typing speed, what can you do?
One option is to try using dictation software. This of course is software that attempts to translate the spoken word into text on the screen so that you don’t have to input the information yourself. In theory this should allow you to stand at the sink and wash up while simply speaking the text you want noted down.
Alternatively you could dictate while going for a walk and at the same time you would expect it to be much quicker. It would be a blessing for those with disabilities and indeed that’s why many people already use it.
Currently though dictation software isn’t perfect, or we would have far less need for keyboards. Perhaps the best known example is ‘Dragon Naturally Speaking’ from a company called Nuance, and this works by using the normal analysis algorithms while at the same time keeping an index of your currently used vocabulary and learning the way you speak.
Still though, there will be times when it makes mistakes, and it can be a fiddly process trying to go back and edit (‘go back – no don’t write go back…! Delete go back!’). For now it’s enough to provide a viable alternative for the disabled, but it’s not yet going to replace a keyboard.
Another option is to use pen input rather than a keyboard, which is another that’s becoming more and more viable as technology improves. The best devices that support stylus input include the Sony Duo 11, the Surface Pro 2, the Dell Venue 8 and the Galaxy Note 3 among others. Each of these allows you to draw directly onto the screen with a pressure sensitive matrix detecting the input on top, and will then convert what you write into text.
This is actually a very fast method for capturing input and is great for jotting down ideas on the tube. However there are also some downsides to the method that again prevent it from being as efficient as it might be.
For one, most handwriting recognition requires you to write a few words or a short sentence at a time and then wait for it to be translated into typing. Even if you could write an essay the same way you might have done in an exam at school, it still wouldn’t offer you the option to scroll down the screen easily or to start new pages, and it would probably be slower than typing anyway.
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The real problem is that we are taking our existing input methods and trying to adapt them to more modern scenarios.
We are trying to write and type into our computers and talk to our phones, when really our language and the devices themselves aren’t suitable for either. To speed up we are going to have to change one of those things – at which point we may well see a huge paradigm shift.