Originally Posted by caliminius
The tactile feel of the keys keeps them from drifting further and further away from where they need to be. The raised dots on the F and J key provide the necessary tactile feedback to keep the hands in general alignment and the edges of the keys keep the hands aligned at the proper angle. Find a keyboard lacking the dots and you'll quickly realize how much of a difference they make.
Nope. I don't tend to find the home row by looking for the dots. In fact, of the fingers that I actively use while typing... I've found I don't rest them on the F and J keys. In fact, I don't rest my fingers on the keyboard at all.
But even so, I think that this is such a pithy argument against multitouch interfaces because, as I mentioned before, the interface offers more dimensions of feedback than it takes away... many more. When weighed against a physical keyboard for feedback potential, there's simply no comparison.
Those things are missing in a multitouch keyboard. Perhaps if you performed a small experiment and found a flat surface, marked a position for your index fingers (in a manner that wouldn't provide tactile feedback) and start typing away. Chances are you'll find your hands running into each other or drifting further apart.
Someone earlier mentioned that without looking down you can be a row off and keying erroneous input... The example used was a physical keyboard. Doesn't this demonstrate that in either case many users really need to periodically look at the screen? I'll come back to this later, though.
Actually I have used flat keyboard terminals and I type with mostly the same degree of accuracy and speed. Additionally, I'm watching my fingertips and they don't actually angle in on the keys. I tend to curl my fingers so that the tips land straight down on the keys without touching any adjacent keys... meaning I don't feel any keys except the ones I'm striking. How can I possibly know which key I'm hitting without looking? I have the layout memorized.
That being said, you can't really key erroneous input on something like the iPhone because if you brush in proximity to two keys, the key to which you have greater proximity is the one that will be selected. Furthermore, in order to actually select it you have to press the key. Additionally, the system in iPhone uses active spell correction to mitigate typos instead of using predictive text input which is horrendous.
I think the power of multitouch would be in it's ability to render a custom interface easily. If you're using Photoshop, it provides a pallet of tools suited for the job. Switch to World of Warcraft and get a very different interface for controlling your character. I keep thinking about the control panels from Star Trek The Next Generation, where they could easily change to match the task at hand.
I have never suggested otherwise. I am only discussing virtual keyboards from the point of view of a communications or other device where an alternative form of input might not be immediately available and you need to write an e-mail, text message or note. It's not easy to carry a full-size keyboard around with you everywhere. But if you're at home with your Mobile Mac tablet, let's say, then yes you're going to use a keyboard for typing.
I also think that people make much more of a stink about being able to type quickly without tactile input. If someone needs to feel around the keys of a tactile keyboard to know where they are, they're going to be slower at typing than I am because half the time of almost every keystroke will be invested in finding the right keys by whatever tactile method they have devised. The only way to type faster than that is to have the layout memorized so that you strike the correct keys the first time without fishing around for them.
I think that it's important from an industrial design standpoint to find ways to understand how the general user thinks and uses technology in order to design a device that works elegantly. But the answer isn't necessarily in finding out how to better imitate the properties of a poorly designed input device.
The tiny tactile keyboard is a mediocre input device in itself that did not arise because people everywhere were asking for tiny tactile keyboards to be slapped onto otherwise compact communications devices. It was at best an interim solution until something better came along. I for one have not purchased and will not purchase a PDA with a tiny physical keyboard because I think they're ridiculously clunky. Until the multitouch solution presented various possibilities, I was prepared to wait for accurate speech to text before buying a PDA.
On the one hand I think companies need to pay attention to user habits to design better devices. On the other hand, I also think that people need to look at what they type.
I am sick and tired of reading corporate e-mails where users are now typing without proper punctuation or grammar, and often in internet shorthand. Communications skills have gone down the toilet in the workplace. The older generations are not an exception, either. I see executive e-mails that are written horribly. I think it's important to look at what the hell you're typing.
Most people, self-professed blind texters included, generally cannot seem to type in complete sentences, unbroken english or without typing errors and it only gets worse when they try to do speed type without looking at the screen or keyboard. If they're so fast with their fingers, what about their eyes? How much time does it really take them to maybe glance at the screen and look at what they're typing every few seconds, preferably before they hit send?