In the olden days of personal computers it made perfect sense to open your application first and then start working. The application you needed was usually just a word processor or a spreadsheet. There wasn't much to choose from.

Fast forward to today. Now I have dozens of apps on my phone. And my phone is very smart. I think it's time to turn the interface model backwards. And by that I mean I would prefer to start entering text first and let my phone figure out which application I intend. I'm impatient. I want to start doing my task right away; I don't want to search for my app icon first.

Imagine a smartphone that presents a blank text-entry box as your home screen. And suppose you type the following:

Project meeting
The room changed to the Zebra conference room. See you there.

Your phone can guess from the text you entered that you mean to send an email to someone named Henry on the subject of the project meeting. If you had intended this to be a text message there would be no subject line. If you intended to enter a search string for your browser there would only be one line of text in total. Your phone can almost always figure out the app you intend by the content you enter. And if there is more than one possibility, a list of apps pop up automatically after you enter your text and click the DONE button.

Let's say you want to enter a calendar entry. Your smartphone could easily recognize your intent because calendar entries have dates and times.

If you wanted to use your map app, just enter an address and the phone guesses you want to see it on the map.

If you intend to set your alarm, just type "wake up 6:30 am".

If you enter a valid URL, the phone knows you want your browser to go there.

If you want to use your flashlight app, just type "fl" and the flashlight app opens. "st" would bring up my stocks. "w" would give me weather, and so on. If there are two apps that start with the same letters, both choices appear for you to pick.

With the current smartphone interface model I have to play Where's Waldo and search for my preferred app icon before I can start working. I estimate that I tap the wrong app about 20% of the time which is just enough to bug the living shit out of me and make me dream of a better system. My smartphone interface miscues are only partly my fault. My Phone icon and my Text icon both have identical green backgrounds and white symbols. When I'm in a hurry, they look the same to me. And I'm always in a hurry. I can't train my brain to recognize my icons by reflex. I have to actually think about which one I want every time. I also often confuse my Text icon and my Email icon because they are somewhat similar in function. I use my phone all day long for texting, calling, browsing, and emailing, so the frustration accumulates. I prefer using my limited brainpower for more interesting tasks than searching for icons.

The app-picking step probably bothers me more than most people because I so often need to capture an idea for later, and in those situations a few seconds of delay is enough to forget the idea, or to be sidetracked by an interruption. Case in point, the topic of today's blog has occurred to me and vanished at least a dozen times before I had a chance to capture it on my phone.

If you prefer your phone just the way it is, let's say you have the option of keeping your Classic interface. All I'm suggesting is that I can change my phone settings to give me the Backwards Interface option if I want it.


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Jan 6, 2013
Scott, I thought you were all about hi-tech and technological progress. What you want was invented decades ago and is commonly known as DOS 1.3. It allows you to type text in a blank screen in the form of commands that you can give additional parameters for processing. Sounds familiar? And you want to do all of this with a smartphone? Good luck with that....
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Jan 4, 2013
Slightly off topic here, but I just got a new Dell desktop with Windows 8 (I know, no one buys desktops anymore but I just wanted something to replace my 7 year old desktop). Windows 8 seems to trying to be more like a phone/iPad with apps displayed in little squares that sometimes change. I've just started getting used to the new Windows menus after XP and now everything has changed again.

What is the deal here? How does Microsoft think that they are adding any value to my computing experience by violently rearranging the icons and menus that I have just now started to get used to? Now I don't know what the heck is going on with all the icons, can't find the right menus on the desktop, applications menus have also changed again...very frustrating.
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Jan 3, 2013
I'd like to applaud Phantom II's comment that Scott just wants ESP. As someone who has developed small applications, this has been a recurrent theme. My personal favorite ridiculous thing, which happened over 10 years ago, was an office worker who wanted something like the following scenario:

(1) She had a booklet of official, pre-numbered, paper forms, which she wanted to keep her own computer records for (and couldn't print her own, for some bureaucratic reason).

(2) She wanted a database that would know what number was on the paper forms she was filling out so she didn't have to type it in herself.

As to Scott's post itself: In my own experience, whenever someone writes software to anticipate what I'm doing, it's usually wrong. Maybe voice activation or categorization of apps would be better for Scott (for example, one category for all word processing like email, notes, etc; another for scheduling; and so on).
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 3, 2013
Summary: Smartphones make up for lack of people skills.

The ultimate introverted engineer fantasy!

As mentioned, get a good secretary, learn to talk to her.
Jan 2, 2013
I think I came up with a solution for you, Scott, depending on how quickly you need the system to be able to react.

Suppose you had an app which was able to be tailored to interpret your particular shorthand notations, but in the case of ambiguities would ask you for a decision (maybe adding to its interpretive capabilities after doing so). You could put all of your notes into a text stream, and then batch-process the stream at a later time, making the process much more efficient for you since the decisions would be made in chunks instead of one at a time.

So, you write a bunch of notes, and, when you have a spare couple of minutes, fire up your processing app, have it do its thing, and everything you wanted to do is up-to-date. This also has the advantage of allowing you to look at your notes again while they are being processed -- I often find that when I take a second look at something I did earlier, I find problems with it that I didn't see at the time. I would design the app so that it processed the notes and presented you with a list of actions that it was about to take on your behalf -- adding calendar entries, sending mail, etc. -- and gives you the opportunity to modify/delete any that you don't like. Ambiguous entries would show up with a warning symbol; if you did not resolve them, they would just sit in the queue until the next time you ran the app. At the bottom of the list would be a big button that just said "Do It".

The disadvantage, of course, is that the things would not be done immediately, so using it to schedule a meeting for 30 minutes later would be problematic. Most tasks, though, are not so time-sensitive that it would make a difference if it was done at 10:00am 11:30am. A hybrid solution might be to add a checkbox indicating that a specific task needed to be processed immediately.

The interesting part for me would be how to design the app such that it was capable of being tailored to an individual. You would have to have a configuration capability, where you could tell it "when I type this, I mean that". It would come with a common set of terms, of course, but you would have to be able to override them. Getting the syntax for the configuration right would be a fascinating study in human engineering.
Jan 2, 2013
This was one of the marquee features of webOS (the OS that powered Palm devices like the Pre, Pixi and Touchpad). Palm called it "Just type": http://pocketnow.com/2012/05/22/just-type-the-best-feature-no-ones-stolen-yet

Until the Touchpad, all Palm devices had a hardware keyboard, which meant you literally didn't even need to focus on the text field; you really do "just type".

It can do some magical things like calendar appointments and messages/emails, and it also does universal search (with the ability to install additional search engines extremely easily).

Unfortunately it wasn't nearly as usable on the Touchpad which relied on a physical keyboard since you had to first focus the field and then type out your message. Since modern smartphones nowadays seem to eschew physical keyboards the function is a bit less useful.

Still, it's really easy to find second-hand webOS devices on eBay nowadays. Perhaps you'd have fun playing with one.
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Dec 31, 2012
Bayes filtering is your friend here.
Just like SPAM filters but used for sorting into apps instead of folders.
Dec 31, 2012

Thanks for your response. I've carefully re-read your post, and have to say I couldn't see any humour in it - I'd therefore presumed it was a serious (and, on that standard, useless) response to his problem. But I promise I'll try harder to spot the humour in your subsequent posts and treat them as such - though I do worry that I'll therefore treat as humour the specific suggestions you make.

"one of my suggestions was to send S h e l l y ..... to administrative school. That would solve your 100% time requirement. " And I repeat my question to you - "betcha that you don't fire requests at your wife at the thought-speed that Scott is after!"

But I'm puzzled - you close by ticking me off for not trying to solve Scott's problem. Yet, if your response was supposed to be funny and not serious, I presume you weren't trying to provide a response either. So I'm confused. Were you trying seriously to solve his problem? In which case my criticism stands. Or were you NOT trying to solve his problem and just be funny? In which case, why have a go at me for not trying either? Confused....no wonder I can't see the humour in your posts.
Dec 30, 2012
Using an android phone (preferably with HTC sense) you'd get most of what you want with the built-in search functionality (i.e. immediately find the right app or web address).

For the most common actions you can have widgets or shortcuts in fixed places and train your fingers to find them without even looking.

Scanning the grid for your app is obsolete now.

Your suggested method is flawed because there's too much ambiguity in the way a text can be handled.
Remembering the ways that get interpreted right would take too much learning to be fun to use.
Dec 28, 2012

You had me until you wrote "You seem to have a knack of ignoring what Scott wants in order to push the solution that's right for you. . ."

My purpose in writing here is not to solve Scott's problems. Rather, I try to provide some humorous and entertaining counterpoints to what are sometimes his less-than-realistic (and less than serious) posts. I don't feel any obligation to try to solve unsolvable problems for him, but rather to provide him (and those others of you who read my responses) with a little fun and enjoyment, as well as hopefully on occasion providing some reasonable alternative opinions. Well written ones, too, if I may be a little immodest.

As far as having a secretary 100% of the time, you'll notice that one of my suggestions was to send S h e l l y (who, if you don't know, is Scott's wife) to administrative school. That would solve your 100% time requirement. Even when Scott and S h e l l y were separated physically, all he'd have to do is hit his speed dial for her, and everything would be taken care of.

But again, my purpose was not to try to solve Scott's problem. It was to somewhat sarcastically point out that what he was really asking for was a computer system with ESP. That system would have to respond to what he wanted to have happen without him having to do anything other than just wanting that something to happen. This is not the first time he's asked for such a thing, as those who follow these posts know.

I notice that, aside your criticism of me (everyone's a critic), you didn't try to solve Scott's problem. I'm glad that you are standing up for poor old Scott, and I'm sure he appreciates it, too. But may I gently suggest that responding to him rather than responding to me might be a better use of your time and obvious talents.
Dec 28, 2012
It's possible to organize apps in folders, in both iOS and Android (with the latter, it depends on some tinkering with the phone first, though). You could also organize apps by screen.

It's just like organizing your files in your desktop. If you take the time to place those icons where you'll find them, instead of just letting the phone place them on the first available slot, you'll find them quicker.
Dec 28, 2012
@Phantom II: How much does it cost to hire an administrative assistant that is with you 100% of the time? Bear in mind that Scott wants "immediate availability", so being in phone contact or "next room" distance isn't an option. That means that the AA has to be always with Scott, which means that whatever he wants done has to be done by the AA, with tech that will be identical to the tech Scott has.....that doesn't do what he wants it to do at the speed he wants it to do.

Now in a more traditional office environment, I agree with most of what you've said. But look at what Scott is saying: he wants to be able to store a thought FAST so that he can process the next one. And I don't quite see how someone sitting next to Scott using the same portable tech that Scott could use himself would be faster.

In YOUR example, Scott says "Tell Henry....", and his AA has the time to check the schedule, and then made a call. Trad office environment, works great! But in SCOTT's environment, Scott says "Tell Henry...." - and then wants to go straight to the next thought. When does the AA get the time to check schedule and make a call if "Tell Henry...." is immediately followed up by the next task?

You seem to have a knack of ignoring what Scott wants in order to push the solution that's right for you.....betcha that you don't fire requests at your wife at the thought-speed that Scott is after!
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 27, 2012
I like the idea of being able to just start typing, but I would not trust the phone to predict my next move. I'd rather have a spin-able wheel of apps - that I could whirl through to find the one I want after I type. I'd also like to just be able to save the text to follow-up later.

I have a similar issue on my Mac - that results from Apple trying to push me to use Cloud storage against my will. I use text edit on my Mac all the time to capture notes. If I am on a call, I will often type furiously as a listen - because the information is usually something I need to act on in some detail. I could never capture it fast enough on a smartphone- and recording the call is a huge waste of time. I only want the relevant details. I don't want to listen through the whole conversation again. Besides, I process information better when I type as I listen.

What I absolutely *hate* is the way text edit now defaults to cloud storage and it takes multiple steps to name and save the notes to the appropriate folder on my Mac.

It's a problem because sometimes the person I'm speaking to covers multiple projects. I want to quickly name and save one file before moving to another. What I end up with instead is a bunch of open, untitled files that I have to sort through and save after the call. Sometimes I end up typing in the wrong one because of a missed click - and I end up with a confusing mess. Thanks Apple.
Dec 27, 2012
I'm curious about what would happen if you typed in "Fruit flies like a banana". That phrase was confusing enough for computers *before* Fruit Ninja came along.
Dec 27, 2012
Too funny. I wish somebody would work on this so Scott could ignore it and buy the latest iPhone instead. Seriously, you do realize that you keep putting your money into the most diametrically opposed products to the command-line system you keep pretending to want, right?

Just for giggles, why don't you get an Android phone, download something like the "Android Terminal Emulator" and discover just how horrible this idea is. It provides a touchscreen keyboard that lets you access Android's built-in Linux shell.
Dec 27, 2012
Predictive text does not work. How do you think this is going to happen?
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 27, 2012

What you wish exists in part on the iPhone. One App works in a way that is closer to your wishes than the regular iPhone way: DraftPad

The app opens and let you type text right there, nothing else required. Then, you can tap the top left icon to decide what you want to do with what you typed (mail, SMS, Search, Tweet, Facebook...). The list of things is configurable so you can reorder it to your liking and even add Maps or any other app in there.

I realize it's not quite exactly what you're looking for, but it solves your biggest problem: You can type RIGHT THERE and decide later, making it less likely your short-lived idea will vanish before you had time to write it down. Just add the icon to your dock and you won't have to think about it again.
Dec 27, 2012
I think this is a very good idea.
And easily doable in programming technology.
I would only add one more requirement - Instead of typing you should be able to write with a stylus on your screen.
It something like the above was available, I would buy a smartphone. Till then I see no need.
It's a pity no smartphone manufacturer is making this possible. In fact, looking at some of the models currently available it becomes apparent that not enough thought is being given to the user interfaces.

Dec 27, 2012

Get a copy of 'Dilbert gives you the business'. Or read some mid-nineties Dilberts in the archive. There you will get an inkling of Scotts opinion of secretaries.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 27, 2012
A lot of this can be done with todays technology. A lot of this is even available in mass market products, but hidden sometimes. Your work flow as you sketched it can be optimized - even if it may not be exactly the solution you now think of. But you need someone to do it. Your time is too valuable to tinker with specific devices, operation systems, apps, and customization. Others have this knowledge and can adapt the technology to your needs. While it may look a little exaggerated to hire a consultant for choosing and setting up your phone it is in fact necessary, because those things are not only phones any more but replacing most of your computers, some of your personnel, levels of organizational hierarchy. Of course this needs professional treatment, you don't get this for free with just buying an end user product.

I resisted to give specific advice even if I think of specific solutions just now because I can't give you complete solution from thousands of kilometers away in a foreign language without direct interaction.
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