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iPhone Experience: The keyboard


We've got our iPhones. Now it's time to see what these puppies can do. This is the first in a series of posts intended to explore the iPhone's features.

This time, it's about the keyboard.

With the iPhone, Apple eschewes the "real" keyboard of some other smart phones, and offers virtual replacement. It shows up when needed, and disappears when it's not. It's available in both landscape and portrait orientation, depending on what you're doing. Let's look at an example of each.

First of all, the iPhone's response to your keystrokes is immediate. The "Notes" application (as well as a few others) requires you to use the keyboard in portrait mode. Create a new note and the keyboard emerges, taking over the lower half of the screen. By default, letters are displayed with a QWERTY layout, as well as a backspace button, shift, and spacebar. An additional button swaps letters for numbers and symbols (for punctuation, etc.).

Click any key and it immediately "grows" from underneath your finger to confirm your selection. The problem for me, at least, is that I don't always see the letter I expect.

Typing on this thing in portrait mode with 100% accuracy requires the hands of a adolescent girl. When typing a 27-letter phrase ("This little piggy went to market," if you must know), I made 5 "errors." That's not a whole lot, but it's enough to be kind of annoying.

Apple must have predicted that people with adult-sized fingers would have trouble, so they've built in a helpful feature. As you type, the iPhone takes a guess at which word you're after, and places it on the screen just below the cursor. To accept the guess, simply hit the spacebar. While this is handy for avoiding errors in portrait mode, it's a real speed booster while in landscape.

This is where things change. Typing in landscape mode - say, while using Safari - is much easier. Because it's got more real estate, the keyboard is wider and the keys are larger. I was able to type my test phrase with no errors and as quickly as I could find the necessary keys. Speaking of Safari, the keyboard acquires a handy ".com" button while you're on the net.

It's also more comfortable to type in landscape. Your hands quickly learn how to position the iPhone so that it's secure in your grip while leaving your thumbs free to type away. I wish there was some why to flip all applications on their sides, just so I could make use of that nice, wide keyboard.

If anything is at fault here, it's my massive Meat Mittens, not Apple's software. However, I would imagine that a number of users have hands like mine. For us, "slow and deliberate" is the name of the game.

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