Is Auto Correct making you spell like a child

by Rod on December 18, 2009 · 5 comments

by Rod on December 18, 2009 · 5 comments

“Auto complete/spell checking” on mobile devices is an essential need.  Each of the major vendors (Microsoft, Research in Motion, Apple, and Google) have implemented spell checking slightly different.  The focus is always on usability with the way auto complete/spell checking works.  Which vendor has the best method is a matter of debate, and at the end, it comes down to personal preference.  Regardless of the way it has been implemented, we have all seen the funny message via email or text that looks to be written by a 1st grader.  So to account for these “features”, users have adjusted to put disclaimers in email signature tags like;

  • Sent from Mobile device
  • Typo’s are courtesy of my Handheld mini-keys
  • I’m not stupid, the iPhone just make me type like this
  • Don’t blame me, my Blackberry spelled it this way

iPhone – Auto Correct

For me, the way the iPhone implemented this feature feels natural.  On the iPhone, as you type it hovers a word it believes you want to type.  If that is in fact the word you want, all you need to do is click space and the word in completed.  The only flaw here is if the wrong word is hovering when you are ready to hit the space key it results in an incorrect replacement.  This has resulted in hilarious messages, for example Hottie! Later which made perfect sense in context became Hogtie! Later.  Somehow, I think the second message could be a bit alarming between friends.  Either way, Apple felt the user is most likely going to make errors typing and we need to fix them.

Android – Auto Correct

The Android is better, except for a single flaw that needs to be addressed.  On the Android, you get an identical feel except it provides a list of words below with one highlighted.  If you click space the highlighted word is completed.  You can manually select a different word and it completes and adds a space.  This is where the flaw is.  By adding the space it breaks the natural instinct of the user to click space.  I have been retraining my brain for about 6 weeks but cannot break the habit.  The space they add creates a problem because when you add a space, you get another auto complete function that replaces two spaces with a period, a space, and a capital letter.  Thus my sentences start to look like this.
My favorite. City to travel. To is San Diego

Auto Complete on the Droid is only available with the virtual keyboards.  If you use the physical keyboard you need to be accurate.  I hope the next update will address this oversight.

Blackberry – Auto Complete

My Blackberry Storm running version 5.x performs identical to my Droid except it does not automatically add the space.  For me this is the ideal behavior.  After a year of running the Storm I cannot believe I actually said something positive about that device.

Windows Mobile – Auto Complete

For Windows Mobile I had to ask my friend Chris to give me a quick review.  He is running Windows Mobile 6.5.

Windows mobile to me has the best of both worlds. When you are typing and use the xT9 input it will automatically begin to complete the word for you. If for example you type SPE in an attempt to type special Windows mobile will automatically bring up SPE SPECIAL and SPEAKER. If I hit the space bar the word special is highlighted as the potential best match and therefore will be added into my sentence. However after the word is added the cursor is waiting for me at the end to the word. I can continue with my natural typing habit which is to hit the space bar after completing the word. As a side note if I wanted to select one of the other options available I need only to simply click on the word in the list. But the final piece to the puzzle is that I can always click on menu and spell check to clean up everything I just typed. Just like I would do in Outlook or Word. This to me takes the way I use my PC and neatly puts it into my hands on windows mobile.

Other Options

There are other options like dictation apps, which are perfect if you need to send a message while driving or just want to be lazy, or show off a new app to friends.  I think application like Dragon, Vlingo, or a host of other speech to text apps are the only thing that will save us from the good, but error prone spell checking on mobile devices.

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  • Brent

    Did you ever try the hack to enable spell assist with the physical keyboard on the Droid? It crashes for me on a regular basis, but when it works, I find that I can really do well with the peculiarity that you mention above: select with the spacebar. That is literally the only place where I think it actually makes sense.

  • Bastiaan

    As an iPhone user I agree that Apple has not really thought the spell check trough. The problem starts when you have 2 keyboards enabled for lets say English and German, at that point the libraries mix and you find your self spending more time correcting the auto-correction then you are typing.
    Microsoft really did their homework on this one.

    • Rod

      Being an English only speaker I had no clue about the multiple language auto correct issue. I hate to admit it but Windows Mobile does seem to be the winner here. Chris is a hardcore fan. I am hoping Windows Phone 7 brings Microsoft back.

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