Windows Phone Keyboard

The keyboard on a Windows Phone is great.

Here are three reasons I think that.

Easy access to extra characters

If you are looking for the á character, you only have to hold down on the a character for a second and a menu will appear with the various related characters. That's much simpler than perusing symbol charts or entering codes. 

Word suggestions and Type Ahead

The suggestions show up in a one-line bar just below the input area and just above the keyboard. It changes after each character stroke, and it is horizontally scrollable (with an intuitive swipe gesture) so it can make a lot of suggestions. Tapping on one of the suggested words inserts the word appropriately into the input area. The dictionary of suggested words is customizable and as far as I can tell also pulls from some intelligent sources such as your contacts list (how else would it know to suggest Schaafsma for my friend's last name) and elsewhere (I still don't know why it knows the word Sharknado!).

The suggestions themselves are pretty obvious and intuitive, but what you might not immediately recognize (because I didn't) is that it not only makes suggestions for the completion of the current word, but also for what entire word you might intend to type next. They call the latter type ahead and it's great in theory, though I've yet to adopt it as a habit. Let's look at both of those scenarios...

Suggestions. If I'm trying to type the word indefatigable and I get to indefat- , I'll notice the suggestion bar providing things like indefatigable, indefatigably, and even understand and understanding (in case you have fat fingered the word). Tapping on indefatigable completes my word and saves me 6 taps. Thrilling.

Next word. Now let's look at this other scenario. If I type the word The in my input area, the suggestion bar attempts to guess what word I might type next. How it comes up with its list, how it prioritizes it, and how it does all of that sub-second is beyond me (it's science!), but it does. In this case, it suggests holy, first, same, other, new, issue, and a lot more. Let's just walk down a few of these and see what sentences I can come up with using the suggested next word. The bold words are me and the rest are suggested. The results are often pretty amusing...

  • The dog is not responsible for any other person who can be found.
  • Fried chicken and dumplings is still one of the best in the world.
  • Today is gonna go on for the rest of the year.
  • The way to get to work in the morning is not on your birthday.
  • Having a great weekend is the best way to start a family.

I like the last one. By the way, I tried simply typing Sharknado and the Type Ahead was void of suggestions... utterly speechless. Like I said... it's intelligent.

Word Flow

Word Flow is awesome in theory and even better in practice. I love those technologies that actually buy me minutes per day, and Word Flow is one without question.

Word Flow is also called shape writing and Windows Phone is not the first platform to implement it. Shape writing is the ability to place your finger on the first letter of your word and simply slide your finger to each subsequent letter without lifting it until you reach the last letter.

I was expecting a certain level of accuracy considering the fact that a given gesture can be ambiguous. For instance, if I swipe from the t to the o, it has no idea whether I meant to or too. I was quite surprised, however, that it is seldom wrong with its guesses and even the disambiguation (one of my favorite words by the way) process is as simple as can be. Alternate interpretations of a gesture are listed in the word suggestion bar and a simple tap resolves to the desired one.

These tech companies build such intimate products these days. They're buzzing in our pockets or flashing in our eyes some relatively huge portion of the day, and it's encouraging to know that they are trying (competitively) to introduce features that save us valuable time.