Cloudy Days and Connected Nights

With tablet and iPhone in hand and head in the clouds

Cloud Demands: Learning to type small!

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entry to the cloud computing universe

The virtual keyboard: entry to the cloud computing universe

While in high school, my guidance counselor insisted that I take typing. I hated it. As a teen I was not good at small muscle coordination, and I did not have strong fingers. I struggled mightily with those manual Royals, Underwoods, and even the early IBM Selectrics. It was not fun.

And I am eternally grateful for every moment I did not enjoy in that class. 

I convinced my aunt to give me an electric typewriter for graduation, and all through college I was in a distinct minority among non-business majors…I could, and did, type my own papers! 

Sounds like nothing today, when they are passing out laptops in 6th grade in some states, but it has made a definite difference in the quality of my life. When computers came along, I was already equipped to communicate with, and through, the new machines. A keyboard is a keyboard is a keyboard.

Or was, until netbooks, Blackberries and iPhone/Touchs.

One of the major challenges many people face when they first acquire a netbook is the size of the keyboard. Not big. Not full sized. Small. Cramped.

I think it was keyboard size as much as screen size that caused the rapid escalation from 7 inch netbooks to the 8.9 and 10 inch norm. Bigger screen, more room for the keys, less typing hassle.

My Asus EEE PC 701 really took some getting used to. In fact, I never did. Upgrading to the 900 model with it 8.9 inch screen did not help much, as the keyboard was essentially the same size. In fact, the keyboard on the 900 was a bit worse than the 701, since the key action was enough stiffer to slow me down.

Still, I made do. And I quickly discovered that moving back to the full-sized laptop I use for work did not now improve my typing speed. I am forever missing keys on the full sized laptop now, because the reach is longer than I am used to. I have to relearn the full-sized keyboard every time I go back to it. 

In my opinion, the keyboard on the Acer Aspire One is ideal. Excellent touch, and just the right compromise between small and type-ablitiy. I am as fast on it as I ever was on the full sized keyboard. Of course, the ease of typing on the One just makes it harder to return to the full sized keys on my Dell laptop.

And, of course, typing small is an essential part of the cloud computing life. Not only on your netbook.

Blackberry typing is an art in itself, and learning to touch type on the screen of an iDevice is a real experience.

Thumb typing on a Blackberry gets to be second nature. You see people doing it while walking down the street, on escalators, while driving even (I shudder).

And I never realized how hard it is until I got my iPod Touch. 

When I got the Touch, I was convinced, after maybe two minutes of using the virtual keyboard on the screen, that I would never get used to it. Touchy, touchy. My thumbs were just too big and it was way too sensitive. The sideways keyboard is significantly easier for one with thumbs my size (though still, I thought, way too sensitive) and one of the criteria for adding software instantly became “does it work in sideways mode”? 

For a week or more I only used the portrait keyboard with one-finger-hunt-and-peck. Then I decided I had to try to learn thumb typing, no matter how painful it was.

Somehow, last night I realized that I was typing comfortably and relatively accurately with my thumbs on the vertical keyboard. Did my thumbs shrink? Did they grow little iProtrusions on the inside where they have to hit those tiny keys? 

Of course not. I just learned. (Evidently my small muscle coordination has increased with age.) 

The intelligence built into the keyboard operating system helps of course. Though I am far from 100% accurate…especially on m and n…i, o, and p…etc. the keyboard predictive typing feature corrects me correctly about 70% of the time (and corrects me incorrectly at least 10% of the time…I reach up for that little x’er pretty often). For thumbs my size self-correction is the difference between being fairly comfortable typing on the virtual keyboard and not being able to use it at all.

I also find that if I don’t think too hard while typing it actually goes better.

Now, having experienced the iDevice virtual keyboard, I find typing on the Blackberry entirely too laborious…and I have lost some of my speed. (I also find I am always trying to activate stuff on the Blackberry by putting my finger on it!! The scroll ball is a very awkward invention after all. Unfortunately, early reviews of the Blackberry Storm have been pretty much universally bad, and especially critical of the typing experience. Apple sets a high standard, as usual.)

So, until they perfect voice typing, or direct thought transference, we will all have to learn to type small. And like it. The cloud demands.

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Written by singraham

December 7, 2008 at 9:00 am

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