I wish to register my objection to the Stockholm syndrome afflicting users of (“if”) iPhone OS, a system on which it is phenomenally difficult to type. We must emerge from our state of denial: This kind of virtual keyboard may be able to do more than a hardware keyboard but it works worse.

It isn’t just that it can take four tries to type a seven-letter word accurately (12 seconds for one word). Or that you can leave a word behind five words back with the wrong initial letter, requiring complex fingerpoint cursor repositioning and backspacing to fix it. (Today’s example: “Onternet.”) Nor am I talking about the near-impossibility of typing extended non-alphabetic strings that aren’t just numbers. The fact that a quadriplegic using a mouthstick and word prediction under Windows XP can type faster and more accurately isn’t the issue, either. It is the systemic failure of the exception and correction dictionary that queers the system.

Apple has linguists on staff. Don’t they use their own phones? I don’t understand how they could possibly have shipped a product that legitimately acts as though people wish to write fir for for. People just do not want to talk about Douglas firs that often. The same applies to us for is and of for if, both of which are distinguishable by context. A further systemic error causes capitalized words mid-sentence to be lower-cased and begin with z. (Why? You undershot and pressed z instead of the adjacent Shift.)

The prevalence of these errors is calculable. Just Google the name of an iPhone Twitter application plus a misspelling or a phrase that uses it. (Twitter will usually publish the name of the authoring application on the Web version of a Twit; you can isolate Twitter usage that way.) From what I can tell, Tweetie users have mistyped for as fir over 12,000 times, even controlling for legitimate uses (as in phrases also using cedar, pine, or Douglas and, to separate other senses of Tweetie, anything relating to Looney Tunes). That’s just one source of iPhone text.

In which other area of Apple’s business would Steve tolerate a system that triggers thousands of provable errors for a single word? Why hasn’t it been fixed?

When will Apple raze this forest of 12,000 firs?

Now imagine how much worse it must be for Finnish, German, and Thai. (I trust you understand why it would be worse.)

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.02.27 13:33. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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