Typing is the chink in the armour of tablet computing

Tablet computers are now well established in the home, providing users with access to games, social networking and web browsing but the launch of the Blackberry Playbook is the latest sally on a new front for tablet computers; business.

Stories of CEOs using iPads are abundant but their use is limited and tablets are far from a typical sight in the office. The reason for this is simple – typing. There is an input gap between a tablet and a PC or laptop caused by difficult-to-use touch screen keyboards and unintuitive predictive text.

The tablet will only be truly useful for business when long form writing can be done easily on a tablet, yet the input features on these devices are exactly the same as those used in the Nokia 3310, which was released over a decade ago.

The Blackberry Playbook is a serious proposition for business use. It’s secure, can deploy Microsoft Office apps and integrates seamlessly with the ubiquitous Blackberry smartphones. Text input, however is entirely through the touch screen, with no predictive text assistance. This significantly slows writing on the tablet and makes it irrelevant in a business environment where text documents are the norm.

Other tablets have installed predictive text and autocorrect systems but this is a world where innovation has stalled. Early in its development, the predictive text industry became a one horse race. As consumer mobile phone adoption was still a new and rapidly growing phenomenon, AOL’s T9 system – later bought by Nuance, was adopted by major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and became the default predictive text platform.

T9 was quick and its ergonomic keyboard understanding system made it perfect for the multi-tap keyboards of mobile phones, and adequate for the SMS messages it was primarily used for. This same system, with no major overhauls, is now appearing in the tablet PCs that are designed to play a key role in the workings of day-to-day business and is simply not adequate for the task.

Thanks to the tablet’s push into the business device market, this is a problem that device makers are beginning to notice. The most notable move to tackle the issue has come from Apple and its announcement of the split keyboard in its upcoming iOS5 release.

The keyboard is designed around the way users type on a touch screen, not the touch type oriented design of the QWERTY keyboard. The most significant advancements in text input, however, will not be to the physical keyboard but the predictive text engine behind it.

For Tablets to make the real impact on the business world to which they aspire, text input needs to be fixed and it will require new approaches such as overhauled keyboards and a completely new underlying predictive text and autocorrect system. Without these kinds of innovation the tablet computer will never be a serious option for the business user.

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Sunil Motaparti graduated with MSc and BSc in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and before joining KeyPoint Technologies worked in technology development for companies including IBM, Intel, and Magma Design Automation. At KeyPoint Technologies he is responsible for: product research and development; new technology development and integration; product roadmap planning and realisation; intellectual property development and protection and product support and quality assurance.