January 4, 2009 | by Wyatt Foard
As the date fast approaches when paid commercial apps will be available on the Android Market, we start to see more trial and beta apps being released publicly. As one of the top 50 apps chosen in Google’s Android Developer Challenge, there is already clear interest in the product they offer – an on-screen keyboard that uses sliding strokes to enter words rather then individual letter taps. A version for the iPhone is already available.
While the rumored Cupcake update to Android will offer an on-screen keyboard, data entry with ShapeWriter takes this one step further by using finger drags through all the letters in a word rather than individual taps. Fortunately it appears there is a bit of fuzzyness built into the recognition routine as the size of the keys makes it difficult to hit the correct key. I have fairly slim fingers and found that I missed letters quite often, though I was successful at entering words. While the app’s response time is quite long during screen transitions, performance during data entry was not a problem.
The user has the choice of one of two keyboard layouts. The standard QWERTY board is available, though the real meat of the app is the ATOMIK layout which puts the most often used letters at the center of the screen. The optimized layout was originally called Shorthand-Aided Rapid Keyboarding (or SHARK) and came from research at IBM. ShapeWriter was founded to develop and produce this technology. As you’d expect, it will take a while to get up to speed with the alternate layout. The inclusion of a practice game entering words to pop balloons offers a not-terribly-painuful way to gain skill entering words. With either character layout the app uses a separate keypad for number and special character entry.
The app is not available in the Android Market yet, but can be downloaded directly from the ShapeWriter website. The current version is a beta that can either be used as a 30-day trial or purhased through PayPal. Presumably when commercial apps go live in the Market it will be made available there as well.