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OMG! This is Gr8!!: Predictive Texting

Even here in 2009, not everyone has a PDA. And, until PDAs are shrunk to nanochippy size, and embedded in our skulls, not everyone with a PDA will have access to their PDAs all of the time. Some folks, even, have, and prefer to have, in some cases, those old-fashioned cell phones with the 12-digit keypads. Remember those? I do. And, I remember Zack Morris, too. Do you?

Despite the ubiquity of internet email access and QWERTY keyboards, either on-device or on screen, there are times when a full keyboard is not available for mobile access. And, What do you do then? Using traditional multi-tap systems to toggle through the number pad options to type out messages can sink your speed. Is there a way to approximate the speed with which you type on a QWERTY keyboard using text, and be faster than everyone?

There sure is. Predictive texting is a method for text that allows you to type full words without toggling through each of the letter choices represented by each number. For example, instead of hitting 2 twice, then 8 twice, then 7 three times, then 6 twice, in order to spell “burn”, instead use predictive text, and hit 2-8-7-6; if “burn” does not appear following your typing (although it should), toggle through the word options until you find it. Reducing your number of keystrokes reduces the amount of time you spend tapping and texting. Predictive text basically works by making educated guesses as to the word that you are intending to type, while still allowing you the option to find or to spell alternate options, such that you are not confined to the system’s best guess. The principle, of course, is that the best guess will be the right guess, most of the time. If you add a word completion function to the predictive text format, the system will attempt to guess the word that you are spelling before you have completed entering all of your letter keys. If the system has correctly guessed your word before you complete it, you may move immediately to your next word. If there are several words that could be formed from your keystroke entry, the predictions will begin, in alphabetical order, for your scrolling; but, the more you text, the more the system will know about you, such that, if there is a word that you frequently use, it will default to that word as your first option, rather than the first word appearing in alphabetical order. Some systems even include a next word completion feature, wherein, if, in your writing, one word typically follows another word, the predictive text system will automatically predict your first word, and the following word, or the remainder of your sentence. Doesn’t this make you want to turn your cellphone into a little pocket Nostradamus, too.

Of course, predictive texting is not perfect. There is the issue of “textonyms”, subtly referenced above, which textonyms occur when two or more words will fit into a completed number set entry. This forces you to toggle through a series of potentially fitting words, until you find the one that you really wish to use, if the system has not immediately guessed your intent. And, on occasion, gibberish finds its way into the associated program dictionaries (although not every program uses an associated dictionary), so that misspellings become acceptable (i.e.–guessable) terms. However, these issues are merely nuisances, which may easily be fixed. If you find a gibberish term or a misspelling as an accepted form, you need only choose the “spell” option, and return to multi-tap usage, in order to complete your word. And, as with email, you should make sure, anyway, that you proofread any text before you send it, so that you can replace misspelled words or gibberish, and so that you are not broadcasting a misunderstanding.

In general, though, predictive texting is easy to use, and many newer keypad cellphones default to the option. If you haven’t used predictive text before, turn the option on, or try it for the first time. A few run-throughs should be all that you need to get it down. And, if you have a deeper interest in the concept of predictive text, check out the Wikipedia article, covering the topic, and which I’ve referenced here and there above. Man, I love Wikipedia. I swear, God created Wikipedia and the History Channel so that men could have something to do when they aren’t watching sporting events.

Whether you’re texting your kids to find out when they’ll be getting out of soccer practice, or texting your secretary to let her know that you are running late for a client meeting, predictive text can speed your process and save you time.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must reveal something further of my motivation for the drafting of this post . . . Certainly, I wish to help you to become more efficient, so that you can save time and money and so that you can spend more time with your family, and all that good stuff. But, in point of fact, I am here trading on the knowledge of my 17-year-old sister-in-law. And, this is why, when people complain to me of the cost of IT, I tell them that they can rid themselves of a lot of the soft costs for technology by stopping their reliance upon training and support, and by trying to figure things out for themselves first, or asking a high schooler that they know if they can’t figure it out on their own. Most of this stuff is intuitive nowadays, and it’s just a matter of practice and familiarity to get it. So, How did I find out about the predictive text feature on my cellphone? Father’s Day, I was sitting with my sister-in-law, who turned to me and said, “How is it possible that you text so slowly?”

Ever since I’ve been using this predictive text, though, strange things have started happening to me. I mean, I downloaded the new Jonas Brothers song yesterday. (It’s about time they let Nick carry lead vocals. He’s the real talent in the band.) And, I think my dad may be a werewolf, too.