Beyond T9



So we're in the #mobitopia chat and we started ranting a bit about T9 - the predictive text technology that allows you to type pretty quickly on your phone. Typing on your keypad with T9 is infinitely better than without, but still, it's got some real problems. First of which is that each phone implements the technology in their own peculiar way (T9 is actually a trademark of AOL of all companies) and second of which is that even the best of implementations is lacking.

First, here's some tips for T9ing on the 3650.

I've been using the 7650/3650 for months now and I had missed this first tip. When you're typing a word that's not in the dictionary the phone will either give you a ? at the end of the word signifying that there's nothing like it found, or if it found the wrong word you can click the * key and scroll through the options of alternatives. If you see the ? or once you've scrolled through all the alternatives a Spell option will appear and if you select it, you get prompted with a dialog box where you have to old-skool tap in the word you're trying to spell. I've found it easier usually to just flip T9 off, and edit the word right in the window rather than mess with the Spell dialog. That was pretty dumb.

If you use the Spell dialog, it adds the word to the dictionary! The next time you try to type that same word, it'll appear at the bottom of the list. This is great. I have now added all the curse words. I was getting very annoyed at having to correct duck and shiv all the time.

Another tip - probably not useful to a majority of people, but I use it all the time, is that you can switch T9 languages on the 3650 pretty easily. Start typing a word, once it's underlined by T9, you can click the Pencil key and you'll get a list of options. At the very bottom of that list is Writing Language, where you can choose from the list. On my phone it has English, Spanish and French. I assume this will vary per region, though Matt in the U.S. got the same options on his.

More. Holding down a key for a few seconds will get you the number. Holding down the # key for a few seconds will change to only numbers (holding it down again will go back to text).

You can also copy/paste by holding down the pencil key and selecting your text with the directional keypad and choosing the Copy option. When you get to the place you want to paste, simply hold the pencil key down again, and the Paste option will show up and you can click and paste your selection where the cursor is at.

Now, what improvements could be made to T9? Well, first the dictionary needs to be completely editable by the user - both for words wanted and not wanted AND their priority. Actually, it'd be nice if the phone could remember which words you used and displayed those options first.

I've used the SonyEricsson phones and I like the way their options are presented above the text. It's disconcerting to see nothing but gobbledygook when you're typing on the 3650. I'd also like to be able to give hints as I go along. If I know a long words starts with a specific letter, I'd like to be able to scroll that letter, and have T9 respect that as it goes forward instead of changing it.

I'd also like to be able to skip ahead. When it's obvious that T9 knows which word I'm typing (especially long words like "telecommunications" or "antidisestablishmentarianism") I'd like to be able to click a button and have the rest filled in for me. I think some phones do this already, it'd be nice to have as well. (You can sort of do it already with the 3650, but it takes several key strokes to choose the option from the dictionary menu. I want a one-key skip ahead).

None of these improvements I'm talking about are particularly technically challenging, they're just refinements of the current system. There's a lot more that can be done. For example, predictive text could be much more "predictive" and look at the context of the sentence to choose the appropriate words that go next. Jim just gave me an example of "cool" and "book", both could be used a lot while texting, but it should be very possible for your phone to give priority to the word that best fits the sentence its being added to. If I type "I w" it should prompt me for "will" or "I a" should be "am", "I n" would be "need", etc. This can't be that hard to do. There's some Palm programs that do something similar already.

As people use their phones for more and more text entry, this is going to become even more important - those little keypads like on the Treo 600, just aren't needed if T9 is implemented correctly. It needs to happen. And the implementations need to be standardized a bit as well. Even within the same manufacturer you have wildly varying UIs for entering text and that's just bad. Especially for the newbies - you shouldn't have to be reading a weblog or be in IRC to find out how to use your own phone. ;-)

I haven't used a lot of phones... Does your phone model do something neat with T9? The Mobitopians would like to know, educate us.


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