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Ask Slashdot: A 'Mavis Beacon' For Teaching Smartphone and Tablet Typing?

Soulskill posted about 2 months ago | from the start-texting-conversations-with-a-teenager dept.

Cellphones 55

theodp writes: "Where have you gone, Mavis Beacon? A nation of smartphone and tablet typists could use your help. You've seen people type fast-and-furiously on smartphones and tablets, so you know it can be done, but how exactly do these one- and two-fingered wonders (YouTube video) manage to do so? Is it their reaction time? Technique? Both? Back in the day, touch-typing teachers showed kids the secrets to higher word-per-minute scores on their Smith Coronas. Later, typing tutor software got kids up-to-speed on PCs. So, with over 1 billion smartphones and 200 million or so tablets shipped in 2013, what are the best software and tutorials that teach mobile typing techniques? And what platform specific features — iOS, Android, WP8/Win8, BB — do you find make your mobile typing life a whole lot easier?"

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55 comments

Mavis Beacon Get Yo Freak On (-1, Offtopic)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 2 months ago | (#47186669)

Las' I hear? She livin' in a lesbian relationship with Betty Crocker.

Re:Mavis Beacon Get Yo Freak On (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47186701)

Las' I hear? She livin' in a lesbian relationship with Betty Crocker.

It's a threesome with Aunt Jemima.

Re:Mavis Beacon Get Yo Freak On (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47186713)

Nerd alert, get laid in 2015, 2014 is a write off for you.

Re:Mavis Beacon Get Yo Freak On (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47187047)

I would've gone with Carmen San Diego...

Re:Mavis Beacon Get Yo Freak On (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47187373)

I would've gone with Carmen San Diego...

As if you know where she is...

Practice. (2)

Xacid (560407) | about 2 months ago | (#47186675)

I can't tell if this is a serious article or not. Practice really is the hardest part of learning to type quickly. I don't think I've seen a kid with a cellphone who couldn't type furiously at it because it's all they've known and they all pretty much have a mobile device these days. Is there really such a demand for such a thing? I really don't see it. What I think the limitation is now is more of an interface problem than a user problem. Consider a good implementation of a swype-like interface versus a touch interface - I can type substantially faster on the swype-like interface after about 2 weeks of practice.

Re:Practice. (3, Insightful)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 2 months ago | (#47186723)

On a real keyboard, it's all about technique. Putting your fingers where they're supposed to go can speed you up quite a bit. I've known people who practiced a lot with two fingers on ICQ or MSN back in the day, and could probably get close to 30-40 WPM, but that still doesn't compare to someone using good technique. I'm not sure that's there's really any technique you can use on phone keyboards. They all pretty much suck. The best onscreen keyboard I've ever used was on my surface. The arrow keys help a lot when correcting mistakes. But there isn't enough room for such useful features on a small phone screen.

Re:Practice. (2)

Noah Haders (3621429) | about 2 months ago | (#47186747)

I can ten-finger type on an ipad, the difference is they're no tactile feedback so I need to keep my eye on the keyboard. but the keyboard blocks most of the screen anyway so there's nothing else to look at.

Re:Practice. (1)

xfade551 (2627499) | about 2 months ago | (#47186767)

Find a bunch of teenagers to spend 90% of your waking hours and 25% of your sleeping hours texting with. That's how they get fast, anyway... 500 text messages per day!

Re: Practice. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47186775)

So pedophiles make the best typists for smartphone?

Re:Practice. (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | about 2 months ago | (#47187039)

Find a bunch of teenagers to spend 90% of your waking hours and 25% of your sleeping hours texting with. That's how they get fast, anyway... 500 text messages per day!

This may be true, but is typing on a smartphone's virtual QWERTY keyboard the same skill as old-school numeric keypad texting that the then-teenagers of 10 to 15 years ago picked up on their Nokia 3210s et al (i.e. three letters to a physical button)?

In fact, as far as I'm aware, "texting" in its original SMS sense is in decline in Western nations, (*) which doesn't surprise me as smartphones have other ways to send messages. My technophobic Mum seemed quite proud of the fact that she was actually quite comfortable with texting now (she has a no-frills feature phone that suits her). I didn't have the heart to tell her that she'd got there just around the point that "traditional" texting was starting to decline.. :-(

(*) SMS is apparently still rising in absolute terms, but that probably has more to do with the growth of mobile phones into new developing markets, and the fact that smartphones aren't quite cheap enough yet for everyone there- though they will be sooner rather than later.

Re:Practice. (1)

Noah Haders (3621429) | about 2 months ago | (#47187079)

what's great and unique about SMS is you can send a SMS message to any cell phone and it will chime and the user will get a notice. maybe if you know that a person has snapchat you can snapchat your butt or whatever. but snapchat will die, so will everything else. sms as a technology isn't going anywhere.

Re:Practice. (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | about 2 months ago | (#47187187)

what's great and unique about SMS is you can send a SMS message to any cell phone and it will chime and the user will get a notice. maybe if you know that a person has snapchat you can snapchat your butt or whatever. but snapchat will die, so will everything else. sms as a technology isn't going anywhere.

True, the universality is a benefit, and that's why SMS will probably remain as a "baseline" service for quite a long time. OTOH, it *is* very limited, even by the standards of the late-90s when it first became *really* popular. (The 140 character limit is more reminiscent of limits imposed by the tiny RAMs of late-70s computers!).

Also, rather obviously, you can't SMS text a photo of your butt(!), and most of the end-users of other services are probably only doing so for ephemeral use- let's face it, that applies to text messages as well! In Snapchat's case, the whole *point* is that it's (supposedly) ephemeral. (Of course, I never trusted that as far as I could throw it, and apparently Snapchat were in trouble for retaining images themselves, which makes it even worse, but that's beside the point here).

Re:Practice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47188991)

http://www.retrojunkie.com/asciiart/health/bottoms.htm

Several amazing depictions of my butt can be SMSed.

Re:Practice. (3, Interesting)

milkmage (795746) | about 2 months ago | (#47186867)

try this

http://fleksy.com/ [fleksy.com]

I think it's still free. no bullshit, I tried it for literally 10 minutes and was touch typing w/o looking at the keyboard.

I think it registers your taps in relative position to each other and has predictive correction/selection

This will probably be my third party keyboard of choice once iOS8 comes out.

Re:Practice. (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about 2 months ago | (#47186763)

I agree, practice is a huge part of it. Back in the days of type on the old Smith corona very few people owned their own typewriter. Additionally there was no benefit, other than to practice, to type incessantly. Texting is a form of communication, it's totally different. Even typing on a computer is different. If you make a mistake, it'll probably be auto-corrected.

When I learned to type you could try to erase the error with one of those green pencil type ink erasers with a brush on one end. Half the time you tore a hole in the paper. Many years ago I discovered that using white out and then photo copying the original document and carefully aligning it in the typewriter was the cleanest way to make a correction. Of course then came erasing ribbons.

Typing is done for much different reasons now. It used to be a secretary would type notes they or someone else took. Now most people are typing their own thoughts. So the need to not look at the keyboard is greatly reduced. Between that, auto-correct, and the ability to edit, I've seen several people who can type forty or more wpm using only their index and middle fingers on each hand.

Re:Practice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47186823)

Practice really is the hardest part of learning to type quickly.

Yes, but how do you learn how to practice? I could pick up a guitar and strum it for days on end, and perhaps eventually, I could play it in a manner that won't make babies cry. But fact is, if someone was teaching me, or I found a tutorial that I could follow solo, I could learn much faster.

Re:Practice. (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | about 2 months ago | (#47186969)

I can't tell if this is a serious article or not. Practice really is the hardest part of learning to type quickly.

I got to be a relatively fast typist for a hunt-and-pecker after several years of using computers, to the point that some people at school were quite impressed. (Course, this is back when computers were still geek things- and I was a geek!- and most others only used them for games if at all).

Even so, further computer use alone- i.e. practice- would at best have made me a slightly better hunt-and-peck typist. There's no way I'd have picked up touch-typing if I hadn't made the decision to intentionally learn it (something I ended up doing via Mavis Beacon, less than coincidentally).

Can't say how much it improved my typing speed without the ability to go back and compare. Bearing in mind I *was* already quite efficient- and happy- with hunt and pecking after 15 years of computer use, was it worth relearning from scratch a totally different technique? Another 15 years on, I'd say probably yes, because since then I've been almost exclusively a touch-typist. For example, I'm using a keyboard with German-language (QWERTZ) letter and symbol legends that don't match the US layout I normally select in Windows. This isn't a problem, because I rarely look at the keys themselves anyway!

Nothing magic about touch-typing, and most people could learn it. However, as I said it's not something you'd pick up simply by practice alone.

Re:Practice. (1)

hodet (620484) | about 2 months ago | (#47187401)

I am a phone typist the way my Dad is computer keyboard typist. Slow and painful to watch. I can smoke a regular keyboard (and not bad on a bb keyboard) but touchscreens are a challenge for me, no matter how much I practice on a touchscreen I will never be faster than a 14 yr old girl with tiny fingers on a gossip mission.

Technical (1)

sslcontact (3690115) | about a month and a half ago | (#47209089)

The technical infrastructure of SSL is equipped with state of the art software and hardware devices to provide our clients uninterrupted and best in class services. Our network is backed by top liner servers and CISCO network solutions ensuring seamless service. Software Solutions: SSL maintains international standard and runs its operation based on the state-of-the-art contact center software solution for voice based services: Customer Interaction Center (CIC) software..........

The buttons keep getting smaller (5, Funny)

Animats (122034) | about 2 months ago | (#47186683)

I have this horrible vision of a system where, as you advance from level to level, the touch-screen buttons keep getting smaller.

Re:The buttons keep getting smaller (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 2 months ago | (#47187059)

I have this horrible vision of a system where, as you advance from level to level, the touch-screen buttons keep getting smaller.

I guess it's time to look for slender fingered women to breed with.

Damn, that's dumb (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47186695)

If you want to learn typing, get a keyboard. It's the right tool for the job.

Re:Damn, that's dumb (1)

tepples (727027) | about 1 month ago | (#47194191)

Good luck carrying a Bluetooth keyboard with you and whipping it out at red lights.

Steam (3, Informative)

jdwoods (89242) | about 2 months ago | (#47186711)

"Where have you gone, Mavis Beacon?"

Steam
http://store.steampowered.com/... [steampowered.com]

video games (1)

CheshireDragon (1183095) | about 2 months ago | (#47186725)

"people type fast-and-furiously on smartphones and tablets, so you know it can be done, but how exactly do these one- and two-fingered wonders (YouTube video) manage to do so?"

And my mom said playing video games wouldn't amount to anything. Look how fast I can type on my phone now bitch...my thumbs are flying

Re:video games (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47187359)

Don't video games shift your left hand fingers position to 'caps-a-s-d' instead of the proper 'a-s-d-f', and the whole right hand to your mouse? Typing is less convenient and more error-prone this way.

Re:video games (1)

CheshireDragon (1183095) | about 2 months ago | (#47187485)

I should have stated video gaming with consoles. I thought it was quite obvious by typing with both thumbs, but I guess there's always one clueless chap in the crowd.

no one can type well on a phone (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47186753)

On a real keyboard, I can destroy the world record speed for phone typing.

I am a decent typist, but by no means near the top of the pack. I'm good for a tad over 100 WPM if I concentrate on it, and 75 if I'm slacking off. Wikipedia:

As of 2012, Grace Pak (USA) held the world record of 280 character-per-minute for the fastest typing on a smart phone

Which can be considered about 56 WPM. That's dreadful. I can do 100 on a keyboard, but really fast typists are up around the 150WPM range, and burst over 200.

Most people will be much, much slower on a phone than Grace Pak. Personally, I don't know if I can enter text on a phone with even 15% of the performance I can do on a real keyboard.

It really is a dreadful way to enter text.

Re:no one can type well on a phone (1)

BronsCon (927697) | about 2 months ago | (#47186813)

Wow! 56WPM? That's the record? I was hitting 60WPM on my BlackBerry Curve when I first got it; but then, that had a physical keyboard. I never did test my typing speed after having it for a while, but I'd venture it was somewhere north of where I started.

Re:no one can type well on a phone (1)

stephanruby (542433) | about 2 months ago | (#47187595)

When I'm mixing languages, and I have to type accents, I type much faster and much more accurately on my phone than on my PC.

That's only because the virtual keyboard on my phone has mined my gmail archive, my sms history, my twitter posts, and my facebook posts, that it knows what I'm going to type before I type it. And here, I'm not just talking about word completion, or accent completion, my phone has enough data on me that if I start a sentence a particular way, it not only knows enough to complete the word I'm typing, but it also knows the next sequence of words I'm going to type next.

I'll just leave this here (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47186761)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64tfnG77Nl8

The ONLY method (1)

excelsior_gr (969383) | about 2 months ago | (#47186799)

Someone needs to port Typing Of The Dead to Android and iOS.

I had bad diarrhea a couple of hours ago. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47186859)

I'm not kidding. I know this will be modded down as offtopic or a troll but a few hours ago I went to take a piss before going out and just as I was finishing diarrhea came out of my ass and ruined my shorts and my whole day so far really. It was all over my buttcheeks and when I wiped it got on my index finger and stained it dark yellow. Then I got into the shower and squatted down and got rid of what I hope was the rest of it till I blew some more or less solid chunks out of my ass. I got most of it down the drain but I did have to pick up some of it with toilet paper. I tried to clean my shorts as best as possible and put them into a plastic bag to wash with bleach later. It took me a long time to clean myself up and really took a lot out of me and now I feel weak and I hope it doesn't happen to me again today (or anytime soon for that matter). In the old days on Slashdot you might read something like this from the Turdreport dude http://slashdot.org/~The+Turd+Report/ but he hasn't posted or commented since 2005, I think he had some kind of kidney disease or something and he's probably dead now. Too bad, I really enjoyed his posts, him and PizzaAnalogyGuy. Anyway, I've got to take a long walk later and I hope I don't have another episode. Thanks for taking the time to read this Slashdotters, you're the best.

I had bad diarrhea a couple of hours ago. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47186903)

I'm not kidding. I know this will be modded down as offtopic or a troll but a few hours ago I went to take a piss before going out and just as I was finishing diarrhea came out of my ass and ruined my shorts and my whole day so far really. It was all over my buttcheeks and when I wiped it got on my index finger and stained it dark yellow. Then I got into the shower and squatted down and got rid of what I hope was the rest of it till I blew some more or less solid chunks out of my ass. I got most of it down the drain but I did have to pick up some of it with toilet paper. I tried to clean my shorts as best as possible and put them into a plastic bag to wash with bleach later. It took me a long time to clean myself up and really took a lot out of me and now I feel weak and I hope it doesn't happen to me again today (or anytime soon for that matter). In the old days on Slashdot you might read something like this from the Turdreport dude http://slashdot.org/~The+Turd+Report/ but he hasn't posted or commented since 2005, I think he had some kind of kidney disease or something and he's probably dead now. Too bad, I really enjoyed his posts, him and PizzaAnalogyGuy. Anyway, I've got to take a long walk later and I hope I don't have another episode. Thanks for taking the time to read this Slashdotters, you're the best.

Wow. This sounds exactly like something I would do. Remember to wash it down the drain pretty good, just because it's down doesn't mean it's ALL the way down. Last thing you want is it smelling the place up, or worse, getting clogged and coming back up when you shower next. Good luck and hope it's all over for you. You remind me of myself, anon.

Re:I had bad diarrhea a couple of hours ago. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47186979)

Thanks for your sympathy and your advice, fellow anon. I should probably spray the bathtub with bleach when I get home. Still weak and worn out.

Mobile keyboards (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | about 2 months ago | (#47186897)

At least for me, it was gradually developed over time jut by doing it faster and faster. The same goes for regular keyboards, actually - I made post a while back about Mario Teaches Typing being effective, but I didn't have much time with it (only in school), so I only got the middle row from that. The rest was from hunt and peck, which gradually evolved on its' own into touch typing. Just keep using it regularly, and you'll get faster.

Dvorak (1)

Zawahiri (963352) | about 2 months ago | (#47186961)

I find using Dvorak on smartphones and tablets to be much more comfortable and efficient. I never could touchtype Dvorak on a regular keyboard as well as I can touchtype QWERTY, but since typing on smartphones and tablets basically requires the user to hunt-and-peck, Dvorak really shines in this environment, even for someone whose brain is wired for QWERTY.

Re:Dvorak (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | about 2 months ago | (#47187645)

This reminds me of my experiences of typing on a Nokia N800, which is too small for any human fingers, and you actually have to peck with a stylus. (Unless you use the mode where the virtual keyboard fills the entire screen.) However, I found that my touch-typing background goes a long way -- there is little hunting involved if you really know your QWERTY, so the pecking with the stylus is surprisingly natural. It is also surprisingly fast due to the small range of movements. I guess it also helps that the stylus does not block your view of the keyboard.

The real keyboard on the N900 isn't actually much better. Sure, knowing the layout helps there too, but it's still using two thumbs instead of all fingers, so it still feels like pecking. OTOH, there is a real touch response. I personally think it's dumb that phones have lost their buttons while people use them increasingly for typing instead of talking, but I don't see any perfect solution around.

As for alternative input methods, I fondly remember how one of my professors demoed Dasher [cam.ac.uk] from his research group around 2000, but it hasn't seen much popularity. I think one problem might be that it relies so much on statistics and prediction, thus limiting and guiding what you want to say a little too much (not that we don't have the same issue with Google and Facebook etc. these days).

Re: Dvorak (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47188505)

I just switched to Dasher both on my phone and on the desktop at work. Little slower, but worth it for my carpal tunnel, since I can literally reach zero keystrokes

Flappy Bird (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47187127)

or so I've heard

well, not really, but MB is also made-up

Voice Synth SMS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47187163)

Any programs out there that convert a voice message to text and sends via SMS? And maybe it can go one step farther and convert it to "text speech" to save space?

Re:Voice Synth SMS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47189007)

It must be boring with an internet where you can only find answers by posting off-topic on /. instead of using a search-engine.

I don't want to type faster (4, Informative)

meeotch (524339) | about 2 months ago | (#47187553)

...at least not on my goddamn telephone. I don't know how to "thumb type" at all, and oddly, when I'm sitting on the subway and I look around to see all the people furiously hammering away on their phones, I'm not one of them.

I use Swype (which is irritating in its own way, due to flaky prediction), and it's just usable enough that I can reply to an important email/text, or look something up on the net/maps. If it's not important, it waits until I'm sitting in front of a monitor - or better still, slips off the agenda entirely.

By all means, improve predictive text / speech recognition / HCI whatever. But why in the hell would I waste my time acquiring a skill that's only useful for burying one's head in (further) neurotic withdrawal from physical reality? It's like learning Esperanto so more people can read your Facebook page.

keyboard (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47187563)

i just use a bluetooth keyboard. problem solved.

Nope, it just sucks (2)

FuzzNugget (2840687) | about 2 months ago | (#47187573)

There is no good way to type on a mobile system, they're not meant for content creation beyond the minimum. Not even those click-on keyboards for Windows tablets (all 5 of them) are any good. They're this soft, felty, flat bar of pointlessness with no tactility, that exist purely for style (and not much of it). Maybe you can get a *real* 102-key IBM PC keyboard connected via Bluetooth... but that pretty much defeats the purpose of a mobile device (consumption and feeding you ads)

The best you'll get is a mish-mash of Swype, pecking and autocorrect, and there's no standard or correct manner of using it. It's just what works for you individually.

If you to type, get a laptop. The best laptop keyboard you'll ever find is on a ThinkPad of the Core 2 generation, and if you're just typing, that's all you really need.

Re:Nope, it just sucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47187729)

I dunno, I've had very good results with SwiftKey's predictive text engine. They use a Markov chain with a database.

A lot of phrases I use only require me to type the first two letters of the first word, then I can just ram the median prediction button a few times and out pops my idiom.

Re:Nope, it just sucks (1)

jon3k (691256) | about 2 months ago | (#47190219)

that exist purely for style

They exist so that the software keyboard can move out of the way and the input mechanism can be changed by software. It's a trade off. You trade the ability to type more quickly for a per application, software defined user interface.

(consumption and feeding you ads)

You forgot communication. Phone calls, email, text messages, facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Yik Yak (I could go on for a while).

If you have a big enough screen (1)

mrprogrammerman (2736973) | about 2 months ago | (#47188537)

you can apply QUERTY techniques.

Re:If you have a big enough screen (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47189603)

How on earth did you manage to miss spell that?

QWERTY is the problem (3, Interesting)

reanjr (588767) | about 2 months ago | (#47188601)

The issue is that the traditional keyboard layout. It's designed to accept up to 10 fingers of input. Your phone is only designed to accept two. This is reasonable only for the shittiest of typing skills. Most people who are fast at touch screen typing, get that way by learning to accept spelling mistakes, ignore grammar and punctuation, and let auto-correct generate something close to what you really intended. Their goals are completely different from traditional Mavis Beacon like software, because accuracy is practically irrelevant.

If you have a real desire to learn to type on a touch screen, toss out all of your QERTY keyboard bullshit and use something that was designed for - you know - touch screens (swype is an abomination that takes auto-correct down to the character level).

https://play.google.com/store/... [google.com]

Re:QWERTY is the problem (1)

UltraZelda64 (2309504) | about 2 months ago | (#47189739)

I was just about to type something along the lines of what you did, but since you already did, it seems I can save myself the typing.

The way I see it: Desktop keyboards, Dvorak or Colemak; cell phones and tablet computers, MessagEase. Use the right tool for the job, and ironically, QWERTY is never the right tool (and this is especially true on a touchscreen "keyboard").

Re:QWERTY is the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47221693)

Fitts's Law [wikipedia.org] states that the speed at which you can move from one letter to another is based on:

  • proximity (further away = slower)
  • size (larger buttons require less precision; precise = slow)

Ergo, the ideal keyboard, on a touchscreen device, has relatively few, large buttons. MessageEase gives you relatively few, large buttons for the most common stuff and smaller buttons and/or gestures to get the less common stuff.

Unfortunately, their definition of "common" may not be the same as mine.

I tend to prefer a compact layout (QWERTY, but with a couple symbols per button) or T9/keypad layout (fewer, larger buttons, more symbols apiece). These depend on prediction software. Which has to be able to learn your preferred words. But that, in my experience, doesn't take long.

My wife and other family members are regularly surprised by the size of the "epistles" I can crank out on my phone, using these layouts. I don't treat my phone as something just to view ads and consume content (I do that, too). I have no problem with composing significant-sized emails on mine. More than once, someone was surprised find out that email was composed on my phone, not a PC.

Sites like Slashdot, not so much. I have yet to see a mobile browser which handled textarea elements well.

Best line ever. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47189143)

You have just made a bunch of mistakes in a row.

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