iPad? Two Fingers, Please.

February 10th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Perhaps channeling a prissy boxer, Jack Roach stabbed and jabbed furiously with his index fingers poking out of chubby fists. With an IBM Selectric typewriter (this was before PCs), he could hit 30, maybe 40, words per minute.

Although he was editor of Management Review, the American Management Association’s monthly maggy and he had reported for United Press for a long time before, he had a block about touch typing. He said he could do just as well with two fingers. After being his number two for a bit, I figured that style matched his mental text creation speed. All was well, although text by poke is often loud.

He came to mind as I begin to us an iPad. It’s virtual keyboards are touch-typing hostile. I snicker as I found myself flitting over the device with two index fingers.

The design behind the iPad is typically Apple sophisticated. As much of the work as possible is behind the scenes, requiring expensive hardware and software to work, but easier for the user. You can turn the iPad any of the four planar directions, the screen rotates to match. Then, when you open an app and touch a field that can take text or numbers, ta da!, an appropriate keypad appears at the bottom of the screen.

Applehead warning: If you are a true believer, leave now. candor follows.

ipadpadTo a touch typist, these keypads come with two major problems. The first is obvious and common across several technologies, like netbooks and Blackberries, the keys are small. Even without the second issue, they’d be damned hard to use with adult fingers.

Insurmountable though is that the iPad pressure is binary — on or off. There is no pressure adjustment. Try to rest your fingers on the virtual keys and you are entering characters left, right, top and bottom.

Unlike many aspects of their products that Apple marketing would have us believe, this is not a keen feature, not a better way of doing things. While flexible from a software perspective, this is a throttle.

I note that for my many years of computer and trade press, I had been exposed to or reviewed various versions of touch screens used in design or in factories and warehouses. Some were made for high sensitivity, but most were hardened for rough environments and big fingers. Then in the workstation and PC world came membrane keyboards, many with software adjustments for pressure and sound (the typewriter like click).

The iPad ignores all that silliness and history. What it does instead is pretty much a per-app QWERTY, with variations such as the .com key that appears when you load up the Safari browser. What you get is very useful.

Of course, that comes with the Apple attitude —Take what you get, love it, and don’t ask to know how it works or expect to alter it. So, there you have it, or in this case, I have it.

I first saw and held an iPad in April last year. The day after its release, several members of the Boston Media Makers showed them off. They had waited overnight or from pre-dawn to get theirs. They then apparently spent all their time until the meeting playing with their very own so they could provide prima facie commentary.

The BMM are largely Mac users…and iPhone owners…and iPod listeners. They love nothing more than telling someone he wouldn’t have this or that problem if only he has a Mac Pro instead of a PC. Yet, they each and all quickly commented on the iPad virtual keyboards. Their conclusion in general was you could create a blog post or do some writing with an iPad, but you wouldn’t want to.

I of course had to try. I’ve posted on three blogs with an iPad. Yet, it is more work. You really can’t keep up with your brain hunting and pecking. The screen real estate makes it harder to see what you’re doing. Mostly though, the two-fingered typing gets tedious quickly.

Nonetheless, I do surf with it. Its Safari browser is nowhere near as full featured or even as fast as Chrome on a PC, but it’s fine. I do enter short blog posts with the iPad. I also have added a quarter screen of apps, some of which are cloud ones, so I can share text or other files or whole apps from different platforms.

I am not inclined to spent $50 to $100 for a wireless keyboard or docking station with one built in to essentially create a netbook with iPad works. I have a laptop and a couple of desktops. If I wanted the add-ons to make the iPad into an impostor, I’d likely just spend much less and get a netbook.

Regardless, the iPad is fun and adequate to its tasks. It is also seriously light and portable.

The keyboard limitations hark back to when workstation and PC users used to refer to the Apple products as MacinToys. That was unfair then, as so many graphics folk proved with their understandable loyalty to systems that served their needs better than the Intel-based world could.

When I use the iPad, my index fingers fly. Sometimes, I’ll think of Jack. He managed an entire successful career as writer and editor just using two fingers. Worse things could happen.

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