Is Android’s biggest downfall the keyboard? Here’s how to fix typing on Android…

After experiencing issues typing on his Android phone, Thomas Curtis looks at how typing on Android is broken - and offers some solutions as to how it can be fixed

Android Ice Cream Sandwich

I’ve recently undertaken something which some members of the tech community may regard as treasonous. An act of such utter betrayal that the only possible recourse is excommunication and no, i’m not talking about airplane mode….

I am talking about changing mobile platform.

For the last three years I’ve either had iPhones or Palm Pre’s(don’t laugh) and I was for lack of a better word, bored. I needed something new, a red convertible ferrari for my smartphone middle life crisis so when the Sony Ericsson (now just plain Sony) Xperia Play was discounted to just £150, well it would be rude not to right? “You could probably sell it on for a profit if you don’t like it” said the devil on my shoulder (ah, the self justification of a tech fiend).

So how did I feel released from Apples walled garden, did I feel flush with new found cosmic power at the raw possibilities of having an operating system as customisable as Android in my hands?

No, because I couldn’t type on the damn thing.

Now, I do not have what I classify to be skillet like hands, nor fingers like sausages so I was at a loss to explain why I could type happily on a iPhone and HD7 without much issue but suddenly be reduced to slow one fingered typing to create something close to a understandable sentence. Perhaps there was just a learning curve and I needed to give myself time to acclimatise, these things take time right? However after a couple of days sending text messages that were something.close.to.telegrams. I started to get frustrated and it wasn’t because I was an Apple fanboy. The fact is that in order for competitors to succeed against Apple  you need to be able to offer customers a decent experience and in my opinion the keyboard is fundamental to that.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich

“Ah ha!” I hear you say

“Tom you have Android, the most customisable mobile operating system on the planet™. If you don’t like the keyboard you can just switch it out, isn’t Android *awesome?!* “

And this indeed true, so off I went, I tried the ‘Keyboard from Gingerbread‘ as although the Xperia Play runs Gingerbread with all the issues I was having I  thought that Sony had replaced it with something else. As the keyboard I was using couldn’t possibly garner such positive sentiment from sites such as Android Central with such praise as “With Gingerbread (Android 2.3 for those keeping score at home), Google has really outdone itself. The new multitouch keyboard is easy to use, offers most everything we’ve been asking for, and is a huge improvement over the previous versions.”

After finding out that this was indeed the purported best keyboard, it begs the question, if this is a huge improvement just how bad were previous versions?

I tried Swiftkey, I tried hackers keyboard, I dabbled with SlideIT Softkeyboard but none of them clicked. Out of all of them the closest was the Hackers Keyboard that allowed quite a range of adjustment including the height of keys, but frustratingly not the width  I was fast approaching a point where I would have to part ways with Android as although I loved gaming on the Xperia Play but I was using my phone less and less because of the level of frustration I encountered every time I picked it up.

So running out of patience, I did what we all do and asked twitter:

Typing on Android

And soon a friend pointed me towards an article at XDA developers on the best Android keyboard and there at the top of the list was an innocuous entry, Ported ICS Keyboard. Now I’ve been excited about Ice Cream Sandwich ever since they hired Matias Duarte. For those that don’t know Matias was VP of Human Interface and User Experience at Palm and was the designer of the innovative interface for the sadly short-lived webOS. Android, in my opinion has always felt designed by engineers, offering a user experience best described as challenging. Now this could be explained as taking an alternative path in mobile interface design but to me it just felt like important corners were cut. However there were signs that things were beginning to change, in a recent interview with The Verge, Matias spent discussed his viewpoint on wants Android to do for users:

“We wanted to focus our effort on making people feel more amazing, like they’re super-powered. You put on your suit of techno-magical armor [sic] and now you can fly and shoot the bad guys. We want our products to make them more empowered.”

Android Ice Cream Sandwich

It’s this Which is why ICS is the first version of Android that has ever interested me because it actually spends time on the user interface and tries to think about how a user may use the device.  So I installed the keyboard and you know what? It looks great, performs well, doesn’t have an excess of features and I CAN TYPE ON IT.

In essence, it just works and thats the first time I’ve been able to say that about Android.

Steven Elop said that the Lumia 800 was the first real Windows Phone? I got a gut feeling that Ice Cream Sandwich is going to be viewed as the first real version of Android.

Thomas Curtis is a tech devotee and former web developer  in education now running his own marketing company. He’s honest, passionate, hypercritical and expects the best, now. 

 What are your experiences typing on Andorid? What are your expectations for ‘ice cream sandwich’?