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Text editing on mobile: the invisible problem (jenson.org)
1276 points by kaftan-permans 10 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 681 comments

People produce less text with more errors in more time on mobile. I actively avoid having to type anything on mobile. If I have my laptop open, I'll use whatsapp or signal on that. I often wait replying on either of those until I get my laptop. Just way less frustrating to not have to correct >25% of my key presses. If I have to use the mobile keyboard, I'll often just send a message with typos, no capitals, and skip some of the more redundant words. It seems lots of people do that. Phones just suck for text input. Longform text entering on a phone is by and large not a thing for most people. It's mostly a read only device for passively consuming news and media. And taking photos.

I find it telling that one of the more popular addons for ipads are covers with a builtin keyboard. It's a way bigger device than an iphone. But yet the keyboard sucks enough that Apple sells covers with a keyboard. Of course, all the touchscreen keyboard problems that the ipad has are magnified on their iphone. Yet, they don't have a solution for that. And they also sell a stylus for the ipad. Because fingers lack precision. It's the same OS but there seem to be no such options for the iphone. Does the stylus even work with an iphone? Is that deliberate? It's not like people are going to be magically more precise on an iphone relative to a huge ipad. Conclusion, Apple just accepts that that's the way things are. And besides, Steve Jobs would turn in his grave if they dared to ship an iphone with a stylus.

Hardware keyboards on phones used to be a thing. I worked at Nokia back in the day. Really nice keyboards. Blackberries were popular too. People wrote lots of stuff on those things. I wouldn't mind a little pocket laptop. It's not like my pixel 6 is small or subtle in my pocket. It would be more useful with a slide out keyboard.

I find that typing on a phone (iPhone or Android) these days is substantially easier than typing on an iPad because of swipe. It's still nowhere as efficient as a keyboard in the hands of a skilled typist, but I can often produce text fast enough that it isn't worth getting out my laptop. On an iPad it's far worse, because I actually do have to use the bad QWERTY touchscreen key-by-key.

What I keep hoping for as far as input methods go is a swipe keyboard layout that is optimized for swipe, because QWERTY has a few groupings that make for ambiguities. Someone calculated one a few years ago that puts the vowels as far apart as possible [0].

[0] https://sangaline.com/post/finding-an-optimal-keyboard-layou...

The only reason swipe works so well is because of how well people know the QWERTY layout, though. You'd have to have a pretty unique situation for it to be worth your time to thoroughly learn a new keyboard layout just to speed up typing on your phone.

The iPad keyboard has a floating option that takes swipe input. There used to be a split keyboard option, which I actually used all the time, but it was removed from newer models for unfathomable reasons.

Wait, wait.... The new iPads don't support the split keyboard SOFTWARE FEATURE that is still present in the latest OS release and still working on "supported" hardware? I thought the removal of the orientation lock switch was user-hostile, but damn; this is another level.

I would think it does support it... In my iPad Air (latest model) I somehow ended up stuck with a split keyboard for a bit until I managed to restore it.

It does not support it. Here are the Settings of an older iPad model to the left of the latest iPad Air's: https://i.imgur.com/YaW0eeP.png

Apple repeatedly notes that only certain models support split keyboard (https://support.apple.com/guide/ipad/move-the-onscreen-keybo...). This page was even renamed since iOS 16 from "Use a split keyboard" (https://support.apple.com/guide/ipad/use-a-split-keyboard-ip...), the screenshot of a split keyboard was replaced with a floating one, and the legacy split keyboard information was moved to the bottom of the page.

Swipe is terrible and i dont know how people even use it

Works well for me. You just type with one hand without ever lifting your thumb. You do need to set the correct language, and if you mix languages, your phone's OS has to be able to deal with that, but at least on iOS that is the case and the prediction is very good. If the first choice isn't correct, usually the first or second displayed alternative is what I wanted.

There are two caveats, though. Firstly, I type differently when using swipe. As it favors words from the dictionary, my texts sound less spoken and more written. And secondly, having backspace delete the whole word is a critical feature to avoiding annoyance. If none of the predictions are correct, I just tap backspace and then type the word like I usually would. This, combined with the rarity of those hiccups makes swipe typing quicker than regular typing to me.

It also helps with relaxing my wrists as I can also hold the phone with one hand and swipe with the middle finger of my other in a gesture like holding a pen, but without the pen.

Maybe there's actually a third aspect; screen and hand size. I haven't owned any big phones, my iphone 13 mini is the biggest phone I ever owned, but I do have large hands, so swipe typing with a single thumb is not very difficult. Your experience might be different depending on your anatomy and device.

There is another caveat with swipe in languages that write some words capitalized. The prediction fails to capitalize correctly in the middle of a sentence. The overhead to edit the word to the correct capitalization is so large, that swipe doesn't feel useful at all. A menu entry or gesture to capitalize the selected word would be really handy.

With gboard on Android, if you highlight a word and tap shift, it will go from lowercase to Capitalized to SHOUTING case.

That's cool. Does gboard have some help that talks about such hidden features?

swipe is quite nice, and on my phone it even recognizes when I want to type in 3 different languages that thankfully use the same alphabet

I do have large hands too but i dont feel the need for swipe. I use the autocomplete function much more

I've been using swipe for years now on my Android phones (currently a pixel 5). I hold the phone in one hand and use the thumb of the same hand to swipe. Feels much more effortless than "actual" typing. Especially when comparing it to typing with both thumbs.

I've been using swipe since the beta version of Swype. However, Google seems to be enshittifying Gboard. It continues to decline in accuracy, so I can't swipe as fast as I used to. ...sigh...

It's indispensable for me. Works nearly flawlessly, and in English and Spanish at the same time, without having to tell the keyboard to change languages. I'm magnitudes faster with it, and rarely have to go back and correct anything.

This whole comment was written with swipe and didn’t require any corrections, I do much better with swipe than trying to tap all the letters. It’s pretty fast too.

Try downloading Gboard. Been using it for years. Dramatically better than iOS built in, which makes horrible decisions about when and how text is corrected and has worse gesture recognition.

After a relatively short time, I stopped having to look at the keys or think about letters. Touch typing from keyboard transfers over well.

Swipe is good on keyboards other than the stock iOS keyboard. That one is worse than every other option imaginable and it sucks to see because iOS used to have the best mobile keyboard bar none back before they tried to get smart with it.

> ” other than the stock iOS keyboard ”

Did you check it lately? It’s really good now since iOS 17… but indeed it was bad before.

I don't get along with it either -- it's the worst possible option for me. But I know a lot of people who get along very well with it. Different people are different.

Which phone do you have? I think it works great on the Mini, but I believe I recall it being a disappointment on a Max

I swipe with my index finder, holding the phone with my other hand, and I find that fairly efficient.

Still having issues with swype, im way faster with normal typing.

What I don't understand is why speech-to-text is so bad (on the iPhone at least), and it's related to this editing issue. Text to speech will never be a perfect replacement for other forms of text entry, because you're limited in when you can use it. But it's so close to being good.

The main issues are so easy to solve, they're just silly UI issues around editing. You can enter text verbally, it works surprisingly well at understanding what you're saying. But... you can't delete the words you just said if it was wrong. It's literally the first thing you run into - you're transcribing, it gets one word wrong, boom, you're stuck in normal tap-editing-land again. Trying to enter messages while driving? Good luck, unless you can transcribe the message perfectly on the first go, you have to use your hands.

I believe you mean speech-to-text, not text-to-speech, right?

Doh, Yes, of course. Edited.

FWIW, I read the corrected comment and still read it as "text-to-speech". Then I saw the replies and scrolled up, and realized that my brain had read it wrong!

You've edited it one of two times!

I'm a dope. And now I can't edit anymore either so it's stuck like this, showing my foolishness to the world in perpetuity :D

Funnily. Speech to text is incredible on pixels and many Samsung phones (S series at least).

Oh man, I long for the days of phones with T9 input and hardware keys you could physically feel. It was so easy to walk down the street and tap out a text message with results much more predictable than "predictive" text, only occasionally having to glance down at the phone to check what you wrote. You could do it all with one hand, it was very unlikely you would drop the phone in the process and even if you did, it would just bounce instead of smashing the whole precious touch screen.

Yeah, these days I only type on the touch screen if it's absolutely unavoidable - if I can't get to my laptop, but can still sit down, I much prefer a little flip out Bluetooth keyboard with the phone on a stand.

See this, it has the T9 input method too: https://github.com/dessalines/thumb-key

I see mention of T9 in "On phones that used the 9-key numeric layout, T9 predictive text was used. Other phones used the full-hand layout with the familiar QWERTY layout, with other proprietary predictive methods." I'm unable to verify this app has T9 as an input method. Is there a custom layout for this?

T9 was pretty sweet as you could type without needing to look at the device.

Maybe this layout?



AnySoftKeyboard has T9-like layout but lacks T9 prediction.

It was much better when you could get phones with physical keyboards. Only recently has swipe on android gotten to the accuracy of typing on a physical phone keyboard, but not the accuracy.

But, that was lost because of the iphonification of the whole smart phone sector.

There was a near-perfect solution on Android for years: Swype.

Why the people that bought it buried it, I can never understand. It was so much better - even ten years ago - than modern swiping keyboards. It even had a layout that was just for editing.

swype was so damn good and nothing comes even close. too bad it got killed off.

windows phone keyboard was good too. the key "hitbox" would grow or shrink based on predictive text and typing speed, so if you're writing something from the dictionary you could just slap the rough area of the button and it would register the most likely one. You'd feel it though when typing in something from outside the dictionary, suddenly it felt like you forgot how to type. Once you slowed your typing down it returned to behaving like a standard keyboard. Also, it had a little trackpoint-type nub on the virtual keyboard which you could drag for moving the cursor. It was significantly more accurate than anything else in any mobile OS.

On Gboard you can slide on the spacebar to move the cursor.

Apple lets you do this, too, but it's really not better than Swype's method. The Gboard/Apple method resembles the description in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy about radios that could be tuned by pointing - "[it] meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same programme." Take your finger off the screen too roughly and you get a last little bit of motion.

That's not necessarily an everyone problem, but for all the people who complain about how big phones are and how they would like a smaller one, I have big hands and find an iPhone Pro Max to be a comfortable one-handed fit (I also found the OG Xbox "Duke" controller quite comfortable).

On Swype, you could click over two spaces to the right, or left, or up, and konw that it wouldn't move.

Did I mention the Swype key? Swype-A, Z, X, C, V worked exactly like you expected from computers. Swype-space did something, maybe bring up the edit board? Capitalize a word by going up above the keyboard before finishing the word, and double a letter (as vs ass, for example) by squiggling around on it before moving on to the next letter.

It had one fault for most of its life: the word "me", which is very common especially in text messaging, was frequently interpreted as "nee", which given that I'm not a wedding planner doesn't come up often. And yet even that was better than the horrendous Apple swipe misread that gives me "Abbas" when I mean "and". The only Abbas I know is the Palestinian politician, and he's not in my contact list. And I don't ever write about him except to complain that Apple just keeps doing this substitution.

> It was so much better - even ten years ago - than modern swiping keyboards.

Unless it learned too much about you. I found that regularly clearing all data from it improved swiping accuracy… It’s just like with all automated personalization, it doesn’t work.

This take is a little ironic. In the original iPhone keynote address [1], Steve Jobs specifically called out physical keyboards as a negative user experience. The advantage of the iPhone is that the entire device could adapt to whatever application you were currently using.

That being said I still think you are right. Typing on iOS could be improved.

[1]: https://youtu.be/x7qPAY9JqE4?si=9_jnM2Ys8JiTXGqC

To be honest, the problems an adaptive keyboard fixed back then - entering contacts, entering email addresses and passwords have long since been fixed by other solutions. Bluetooth, vCards, contact sharing, QR codes, one-tap logins, password managers..

To say nothing of NOT displaying the keyboard at all. If you look at an old phone, you notice how tiny their screen is, because half of the front side is reserved for a sucky 12 key keyboard.

> The advantage of the iPhone is that the entire device could adapt to whatever application you were currently using.

This is the same argument as with Tesla dashboard: it's true, but incomplete. Virtual keyboard require your visual attention, while physical keyboard can be easily navigated using only touch.

I would say this vision could be realized if the iphone were able to grow a physical keyboard, and until then the entire device of the blackberry is more adapted to the applications I am using

I don’t think stylus is the answer on phone for text input. Maybe on a phablet. I haven’t experienced it being better and only use pencil on my iPad when in a meeting where typing or using a laptop would be obnoxious.

The Apple Pencil doesn’t work on the phones. But even if it did, it would be ridiculous and un-Apple given that the pencil is disproportionately huge compared to the phone itself. I personally wish they would do something for the rare customer who does need it (e.g. for precise drawing on the go). But they’d need a separate Apple Pencil Mini product.

I think Apple’s answer is that you should use speech-to-text or just serve voice messages, both seem quite popular with the crowd that isn’t on HN.

I just want a iPhone with a blackberry keyboard

My problem on the Android Samsung keyboard is the positioning of the backspace key. When typing a word containing an "m", I'll often hit backspace instead, causing a lot of editing, for example "example" becomes "exple".

I agree it’s awful, but I very much disagree that people are doing it “less” — think of the chat apps. I think more text passes between more humans on iOS/Android than ever before in the history of humanity.

It’s probably a pain, but a familiar one, and you mostly tune it out.

Perhaps in total, but I am not sure that is true per person.

That's not a phone AND she is using a stylus.

"People produce less text with more errors in more time on mobile."

I absolutely agree, typing or editing text on a smartphone is just horrible. There are many times I've started to write an email or post to say HN and I've been so frustrated I've aborted the process and restarted it on my laptop. It's down outright infuriating I have to do this.

[I just hope someone of influence at Google reads these posts and acts accordingly. If people at Google don't understand then it's just another instance—like Microsoft the king of offenders—of where Big Tech won't fix the damn obvious (I wish someone would write a book about it and fully expose the problem).]

1. You mention the keyboard matter. I went to the trouble of buying a small Bluetooth keyboard to use with the phone to help with the problem and it was hopeless, for starters, it had no separate keypad and I couldn't use any of the multiple alternative ways of keying ALT-# etc.—to key in, say, a Unicode character. None of the known 'fixes' actually worked for some reason.

Question (to anyone): we have any amount of hardware available but no decent small Bluetooth keyboards—why on earth not!? There's precious few Bluetooth keyboards anyway let alone decent small ones for portable use or that are convenient to use with smartphones. Manufacturers where the hell are you?

2. The finger problem and selecting text. First, there's the selecting text problem. Either one's fingers are too big or selecting text is difficult because the resolution and or sensitivity of the screen is wrong and it cannot be adjusted. Yes, some phones have a 'glove' mode but it's nigh on useless. Why don't phones have a sensitivity control that makes selecting text with a finger much, much easier?

3. Along the same lines, selecting or editing, say, a URL from a browser address line is painful. When the URL text exceeds the screen width then trying to get to the end of the text is a damn awkward. More often than not either one can't, or the highlight comes on and soon as one tries to get the cursor back the URL disappears altogether. Getting the cursor into the correct position between the text and the GUI element is usually difficult, why doesn't Google allow some blank spaces here so it's easy to edit? Surely, it could be made so that tapping in this vicinity and sliding right would place the cursor at the end of the text without losing it? Editing here really does need fine tuning.

4. UNDO, UBDO! I'm typing this into my browser's HN edit box! If I accidentally refresh the page before posting (which is damn easy to do) then I will have lost everything and have to start over again. Why on earth hasn't the 'undo' problem been solved with browsers, especially so on smartphones? It was solved over 30 years ago on wordprocessors so why not with browsers?

If I know I'm going to type some long text on my phone then I'll first do so in a text editor and save continually as I go then copy the finished text into the browser. I should NOT have to go to this amount of trouble, it's stupid and ridiculous that phone ergonomics aren't easier. (They say smartphone sales are slowing, well I'd suggest they'd quickly pick up again if Google fixed these important ergonomic issues.)

5. That raises the problem of where are 'undo' plugins for browsers? If browser manufacturers won't do 'undo' then why doesn't someone provide one (if ever a browser plugin was needed for a smartphone then this is it). BTW, there used to be an excellent plugin that did this for desktop Firefox called Lazarus but I haven't seen it for years. Lazarus not only did undos but also kept track of multiple edits—one could go back to any edit point even days or weks later and use or reuse it. Why are we now deprived of such a useful tool nowadays? There's no doubt computers are getting harder to use these days—not easier.

Right, I'm damn annoyed with the primitive smartphone environment I'm forced to use. It may have been OK 10 or more years ago but it's not OK nowadays. It's notable that with every new version of Android that Google adds junk I mostly don't need (and often useful features are removed that I do need and done on the pretext it's for security or such). It really is high time Google started to address these essential usability issues that everyone needs and wants.

This is such an issue one has to question what's going on at Google. Are people at Google incapable of entering more than one line of text into their phones at a single sitting? Can't they comprehend any concept longer than a single Twitter/X entry at a time? Given the neglect, one has to wonder.

Speaking of selecting text, at least on Android there is a trend in both Google and third-party messaging apps of only letting you copy the entire message, not a substring thereof.

I wish I could take a peek into the brain of whoever came up with that idea -- ideally, after removing it with a large, sharp rock.

More than once I've copied an entire message, pasted it into Google Keep, selected the bit that I want and pasted that elsewhere, and then deleted the note in Keep. Frustrating.

"...there is a trend in both Google and third-party messaging apps of only letting you copy the entire message, not a substring thereof."

Yeah, right. But it's not just confined to Android apps, for years selecting text with the mouse and copying from within Windows Firefox has been flaky, it can work but often it doesn't. If I want such copy to work for certain then I highlight the text and use Ctrl-c/v to finish the job.

Similarly, selecting some text such as part of a URL is nigh on impossible in Firefox (the URL becomes a single entity). Also, when selecting such text it's better approached starting after the text rather than before and working backwards—and even then it's best to start from a few words further on and discard the extra after the paste. Sometimes, with 'awkward' pages it's best to do a 'Select all' on Android or Ctrl-a elsewhere then paste into a text editor and fine tune one's selection from there.

It's ridiculous. I cannot understand why this hasn't been fixed, surely I'm not the only one who experiences these problems.

Most of the time the user just wants to share the entire speech bubble and it is way easier this way instead of fiddling with beginning and endpoints

I can't imagine why anyone would ever want to share an entire speech bubble, without any context (as in a screenshot).

On the other hand, it's obvious that given a message like "My address is 123 Xyzzy Rd, come anytime," the user would only want to select a subset, not the entire message.

"...without any context (as in a screenshot)."

Right, it saves typing when using some of the words elsewhere, and or when there's something in the bubble like a URL or awkward Unicode character. Copying the text is much quicker than regenerating it from scratch—or it ought to be!

Also, with an address and or phone number it saves making copying errors (I regularly copy text this way).

Why? All those algorithms/selection code are commonplace and were solved decades ago so why aren't they used?

> 3. Along the same lines, selecting or editing, say, a URL from a browser address line is painful. When the URL text exceeds the screen width then trying to get to the end of the text is a damn awkward.

Because editing text on mobile is so tedious for all the reasons already outlined, this is basically the extent the of "editing" text that I do on my phone and it still drives me crazy! Stripping the UTM parameters from a url I've pasted into the address bar, pressing down, and watching the cursor sloooowwwwly move all the way to the end is excruciating. Likewise, the cursor often disappears on me as well.

> 4. UNDO, UBDO! I'm typing this into my browser's HN edit box! If I accidentally refresh the page before posting

Haha, I obsessively copy all if I'm writing > a couple sentences on HN on mobile; accidentally refreshing has wiped my text far too many times

"...still drives me crazy!"

Yeah, right. ...But unfortunately I think we're preaching to the converted. :-(

Logitech makes a few good Bluetooth keyboards that are relatively compact. The K480 even has a lip to use like a stand. These are often multi-device so you can pair with a desktop and a phone and quickly change between them. I use the MX Mechanical Mini as my main keyboard these days and switch between my laptop, my desktop, and my phone. Were you thinking of something smaller than these options? Or just lamenting it's mostly just Logitech making decent products in this space?




Thanks for the info.

At the time I bought my Bluetooth Armaggeddon keyboard (see link) a year or more ago I looked at the Logitech ones and decided on the former specifically because it was more compact and almost an ideal size to use with a smartphone although I wouldn't make that decision now for reasons stated.

Moreover, despite being a mechanical keyboard, my 'A' key has deteriorated to the point where I have to push hard (often I only notice after the speller picks up the missing 'A'). This is another reason not to recommended it. And to make matters worse the key is soldered to the board in an awkward way (I was planning on swapping it with a key that wasn't used as much but it was too much trouble). There are other reasons too including bad (buggy) software that drives key LEDs. All up, it was a bad choice.

This stuff is always changing so I'll do another survey, also I've had good results from Logitech in the past so its KBs will be high on the list.

BTW, at the time I bought the Mk-17 Am. I'd first done a bit of a survey and I noted several comments/reviews that lamented the lack of Bluetooth keyboards due to the fact that there was little demand for them. I suppose that makes sense with WiFi availability but it also indicates that few bother to use an external KB with their phones or tablets. Thus, despite editing text on a mobile being such a pain it seems few do anything about it.

Incidentally, the mouse I use with my phone is the Logitech dual wireless unifying/Bluetooth model M590. It works well.


For me, the biggest problem is lack of meaningful feedback. Even a small keyboard lets you feel the edge & centre of each key, and feel when it's acted (the click).

And a physical keyboard does not require you to be looking at it, just to use it.

> People produce less text with more errors in more time on mobile.

I mean yes, of course, but how could it be otherwise? A desktop keyboard is 10x the size of an entire mobile phone. The idea that it should somehow be possible to attain the typing performance provided by such a large dedicated input device on a phone the size of a keyboard's space bar is pretty ridiculous.

And I'm unconvinced that the "Eloquent" design presented in the article is a step forward. The "T-Menu" looks terrible and confusing, and I find the drag animations quite jarring.

The only obvious, intuitive mobile interface for text entry is speech-to-text. I know it isn't quite there yet, but that doesn't mean fiddling with details of how cursor movement works on a phone screen has any realistic chance of ever solving the problem.

using text to speech on a train is going to make me a lot of friends...

This is absolutely a problem, but I'm not convinced the author has found a solution. I'd have to try it to know for sure, but from the description, it still sounds finicky.

I believe touch screens are fundamentally a bad interface for productivity. Consider the range of actions provided by a mouse: You can hover without clicking, you can left click, or you can right click, all with nearly pixel-level precision. Add in a keyboard and your options expand even further.

A smartphone is like a computer with a one-button mouse and an abnormally large, irregularly shaped cursor, where can never be sure which part of the cursor indicates your actual click target. Software on this computer is not aware of the cursor's location until after the mouse has been clicked, and portions of the screen are blacked out when you move the mouse to certain positions. Your keyboard only works when you bring up an on-screen overlay which takes up ~35% of your screen real-estate, on a monitor which is abnormally small to begin with.

Could any amount of well-designed software make text entry efficient on this machine?

This is a hardware problem, not a software problem.

Why not something akin to "fixed-offset cursor"? Actual cursor/pointer is always a centimeter above the finger position (thus always visible [bottom of the screen to be handled as a special case]), and finger movements manipulate position, while hold duration accesses alternate modes.

For a somewhat similar implementation (touchscreen is essentially handled as touchpad) look at how Teamviewer handles remote sessions to Windows desktop from smartphones.

I would really like any/all of those as a toggle-on mode for use on Android itself... selecting text with arthritis fingers is a pain – literally and figuratively.

Try out the app Quick Cursor[1] it does a lot of what you describe. Pretty intuitive too, you build muscle memory for it quickly. 1: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.quickcurso...

"A smartphone is like a computer with a one-button mouse "

Not quite. A touchscreen can detect many fingers, that can do many gestures.

The problem is, exept zooming (pinching with 2 fingers) and moving around (swiping with 2 fingers) the potential is pretty much unused.

I have trouble imagining that more than 2-3 fingers can be realistically used for input at once. For one, you normally have to use one hand to hold the phone, which uses up 3-4 fingers. And to enable frequent multi-touch gestures you'd have to hover your hand awkwardly over the phone, which is fine for the occasional pinch-to-zoom but not if you have to do it all the time.

But with 2-3 fingers you already have lots of combinations. 2 thumbs are enough. I have been toying with some ideas for a game and thought about the potential for normal use cases.

Intuitive (like swiping and pinching) is none of it though and it can only be useful once muscle memory kicks in. So I guess this is the reason, we do not have a global standard for anything advanced multitouch.

Given 2 finger pinch-spread is already taken for zoomout-zoomin, what are the remaining useful combinations for 3 fingers? It can't detect which finger you're using. It should support one-handed operation, so the 3 finger gesture should be possible with one hand. You'll likely have to use middle and ring fingers, which are mechanically connected, so relative motion would be difficult.

I think you're wrong. There are very few combinations available for things like text editing.

"You'll likely have to use middle and ring fingers"

Well, people who played the violin or alike can do this, but yeah, it was hard work to learn and cannot be expected of the general user.

So yes, it cannot be anything complicated.

One of my ideas is to use the position of the fingers and the timing they touch. No matter which finger, what matters is the position they touch down relative to each other. So 2 (or 3) touches, like double click, but with 2 fingers and you evaluate the positions.

Simple variant: "pointing finger", "middle finger" -> one action (one touching point, then another touching point shortly afterwards left of the first touching point)

"middle finger", "pointing finger" -> another action (first touching point, then the other touching point to the left of the first one)

Or you can use the 2 thumbs, or thumb and pointing finger. And use up and down as well. So you have "middle" "up"; "middle" "down"; ...

And the actions could be anything, like "middle" "left" could select the next word to the left or go to the beginning of the line.

But my main thinking evolved around game actions, but it is the same principle.

And then you could also advance it with "middle" "left" "middle", the only limit are the coordination skills of your average user.

And ... the hardware limits. I have never really implemented those ideas, because I got frustrated very quickly(some years ago) with how the native touch handling of the OS got in the way, and some unprecise sensor input. But if you keep it simple, it should be doable. I guess I am now motivated to give this experimentation another shot real soon ..

I like playing music and enjoyed the multitouch puzzle game posted on HN a while back, so for a game like the one you're suggesting, fair enough.

For text editing, I don't think the cardinality of the set of gesture-based solutions is very large.

It's a good point, but I'm not sure how to use those gestures for text entry. TFA didn't go down the multi-touch route either in their proposal. But it's possible I'm not being creative enough!

If you forced me to implement something without doing any research, I’d suggest:

First, (iOS perspective but it’s not that different than Android) to convert the suggestions row to a row of function keys anytime Shift was held down. No annoying delays or extra taps waiting for the menu pop-up. So now you can use two fingers to cut copy paste undo instead of using several seconds and a popup that can appear anywhere onscreen. Next, arrow keys. Heck, use the same Shift hack and, when Shifted, replace the space bar and the dead useless area below it with a big inverted T. Our phones have gotten much bigger and yet especially on iOS the keyboard hasn’t grown a pixel since what, iOS 5? Case in point: no number row still for Apple, even as an option. Wtf.

iOS already has three-finger pinch to copy/paste, and three-finger swipe to undo/redo. But I find that these gestures are too unreliable for regular use, the gestures almost always activate some other click target plus my other fingers are busy holding the phone.

>exept zooming (pinching with 2 fingers)

2 fingers is already too much. Maybe I could've done it with 2010 smartphones, but new ones are so large that I switched to double-tap then drag ages ago. It's annoying having to involve a second hand just to zoom something, and trying to do it with a single hand is just a recipe for destroying your phone.

3D touch solves some problems for touch interfaces, but sadly Apple killed it (everywhere except Magic Trackpad, for some reason).

It never worked though. It would just pop in randomly at unexpected times. It sucked.

Hmm. It worked fabulously for me, and spared me from waiting a beat every. Single. Time. that I want to get what we now know as a long-press menu.

The problem was they made deep press and long press do different things, so it chose the wrong one regularly. I don't know why they ever thought that was a good idea. It was obvious that deep press should have just been "faster long press".

How did you get it to work on bumpy car rides, or while jogging?

There's your problem. I never exercise (JK).

But seriously, I suppose I just never use enough pressure when I'm "just" regular-tapping to inadvertently activate force touch under any circumstances, so I never had any ambiguous inputs.

I LOVED it. I could move the text cursor with precision AND do text selection with the same precision and FAST. In some situations faster and with more precision than I would have been able to do with a mouse even.

Such a great loss that they dumped it.

cursor move is still available with a long press of the spacebar, but I dearly miss the selection. that was the killer application of 3d touch I think.

The first gen or so of Android phones had an optical 'trackpad' below the screen, some were terrible but some were really good, allowing far more precise cursor movement than a touchscreen. I wish this feature had survived, it was awesome for text editing.

It did in a fashion, on my Fold 5, for instance, I can half fold it and get a trackpad on the bottom half of the screen, which is great! I wish that was just a general toggle between "direct touch" and "screen as trackpad with a cursor" that'd be just grand.

Some had a trackball which was fairly precise.

well yeah, a touchscreen is never going to be a keyboard, but that doesn't mean things couldn't be better

> a touchscreen is never going to be a keyboard, but that doesn't mean things couldn't be better

... they growled, struggling to pierce the sow's earlobe.

> This is a hardware problem, not a software problem.

This is a UI validation problem.

Apple proved in 2007 that you can port tons of applications over to the smartphone. They had to invent their own language for interactions though ("pinch-to-zoom" etc) and it took them two weeks of focus with all their software development staff involved to fix keyboards on capacitive touch.

It may not be possible to reach the same kind of flexibility on a mobile device when it comes to rich text editing, but it's certainly possible to port over a lot of functionality from the desktop.

Do you really think Apple invented pinch-to-zoom? CMU Sensor Lab had it back in ’85. Steve Jobs coincidentally visited soon after and later claimed to have patented the technology for the iPhone. That was shown not to be true in the big Apple vs. Samsung patent case.

References available upon request.

Not to imply any specific doubts—I’m aware of the narratives—but if you have references, I’m interested! Request, request.

No, I don't think they invented multitouch, I was referring to the name of the gesture. "Pinch to zoom" is afaik their invention, as opposed to "two or more input points applied to the touch-sensitive display that are interpreted as the gesture operation", as the article mentions.

The issue is about naming and communicating UI in an intuitive manner. Which should be solved by acceptance testing.

As far as clicking and basic functions, is a two button mouse really that different from tapping + short holding to open a menu wheel? There's a lot of pain points to me when comparing a touch screen to a PC setup but the mouse isn't one of them.

I agree, but note that a lot of this is solved by having a pen with buttons.

I agree, styluses are great! Placing the cursor and highlighting text on e.g. a Nintendo DS is a lot easier than on an iPhone. (Everything else about typing on the DS sucked of course, but it's not like Nintendo put substantial effort into that experience.)

I do find that e.g. the Apple Pencil doesn't have a small enough tip for text selection to work well, it's really made for drawing.

(just to add, the Latin plural of or "stylus" is "stylī", so in English we can use "styli" or "styluses")

I sometimes wonder if modal editing (like vim uses) might be a good approach for navigating/editing longform text on touch devices.

It does seem like a missed opportunity to have taken the keyboard/mouse approach and then transferred it to touch devices. Even the keyboard layout has no real advantage for two thumb typing on a screen.

Approaches that adapt the interface whilst leaning heavily on letter based inference could be interesting for one handed / single digit entry of letters. Something like dasher: https://www.inference.org.uk/dasher/dashersummary.html


On an iPhone if you hold the space bar down the whole keyboard becomes a kind of trackpad which you can use to move the cursor.

Since all the keys disappear, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to add something that works like mouse buttons so you could select text or paste in a specific spot in that “mode”.

Right now it’s so frustrating to do any kind of selecting.

You can use that for selection as well, tap somewhere else on the keyboard. Used to be even better with 3D Touch, you did not have to wait for the long press to register.

Holy crap. I've been using the space bar for years to move the cursor, I had no idea you could select with it too. Thank you!

It's even officially documented as well [1]. I wonder if selection was introduced when the spacebar cursor was, or if it was later.

[1] https://support.apple.com/guide/iphone/type-with-the-onscree...

I frequently use the selection, but I don't like the implementation of it. Rather than the selection being between the starting "anchor" point and your moving cursor's position, the cursor you're moving around just creates an ever-growing selection that can't be subtracted from. So if you're e.g. selecting across multiple lines and you bring the cursor up to the line above, it'll select everything from the starting point to where the cursor is now, but if you bring it back down it doesn't unselect that text. So if you accidentally select something you didn't want to, the selection is essentially ruined and you need to start over. I have no idea why they implemented it like this.

Super great. Doesn't work on gboard. Why isn't a period and comma a default on these keyboards??

Selection was introduced at the same time as “space bar cursor”, which is with the introduction of 3D Touch in the iPhone 6s.

Actually, it wasn’t even a “space bar cursor”, as the way of triggering it was with force pressing and not by holding the space bar. It works much better with 3D Touch, as you can move the cursor around and press harder without lifting to start selecting, then release a bit to stop. My iPhone 8 can still do it, and I’m really going to miss it when I upgrade.

I miss 3D Touch too, it was faster than waiting for a long tap.

Unfortunately this affordance isn’t available when trying to make a selection in noneditable text.

Since often on mobile devices I am responding to comment threads (in slack or gitlab or Jira, or indeed right now on HN, for example) the challenges I have in copy-pasting are often in grabbing text from a prior comment to quote, rather than in selecting my own text.

To be fair you can't drop a caret (the edit cursor) into non-editable text in most desktop applications as well. And that's a missed opportunity there too. I think Chrome got less agreesive in changing your selection to match word bounaries, but it was very annyone for a while. I think you could void it by holding Shift, but that had some other side-effects in some pages.

I think internet explorer did this selection thing at one point years ago. I don’t recall chrome doing it. Firefox used to have a ‘caret browsing’ feature but people didn’t use it so it was eventually removed. So I don’t really think it’s a missed opportunity so much as a feature people didn’t sufficiently love.

Press F6 in firefox for caret browsing.

That would be F7. The same works in Chrome.

Thanks, that comes in very useful from time to time. I thought that got disabled. Chrome did double checked that I know what I’m doing with a popup, I hope this is not a sign this will get deprecated.

Ah I didn’t realise it still existed. I think I must have misremembered the warning as being a deprecation notice.

One cool thing about the Samsung s-pen is it can select any text on the screen (drag while holding the pen button)

Thanks. I don’t know how much RSI I’d be saved from if I knew this years ago. Apple, if you’re listening, you should advertise this better. Ok, maybe not for the new iPhone user, but maybe for a user in his 2nd year or one which does a lot of text input.

> You can use that for selection as well, tap somewhere else on the keyboard.

Doesn't appear to work.

What does work is pushing a little harder (i.e. "force touch") with the same finger/thumb that initiated the move-cursor-via-spacebar gesture.

Only problem there is that sometimes the forcetouch doesn't register (no matter how hard you pinch the screen), or is too trigger happy and starts selecting text when you only wanted to move the cursor.

What do you mean "tap somewhere else on the Keyboard?" Once I hold down the space bar and then let go, the keyboard disappears. And I just tried some combination of this and got into a frozen state where the keyboard was missing and I had to kill Safari.

EDIT: Oh, I need to use a second finger. Cool.

As the finger starts close to the bottom edge of the screen, I always struggle with moving the cursor downwards. Is there a trick for that?

You can hold down on every key, not just the space bar.

Except for keys that have alternate accent keys, and I don't think it's possible at all on the other keys when you have swipe typing available.

I think you can only 3D touch on other keys. If you have one of the newer iPhones without 3D touch you have to long press the spacebar.


I've been using nvim in termux on foldable phone since I've bought phone in that form factor. It works great, I'm using "unexpected keyboard" as input method for faster special symbols access. It works pretty well. Good enough for me to program on the go.

Thanks for letting me know about the Unexpected Keyboard app. It'll take some getting used to, but having arrow keys and punctuation available without changing modes is pretty awesome.

I can even hit Ctrl-A to select all, Ctrl-C to copy, etc. This alone will help text editing on my phone.

The hacker keyboard does that also. Most standard keyboard functions work as you would expect them to.

That said, I am going to go try the unexpected keyboard.

I like it.

I really like the select cursor motion on the space bar. Makes quick work of a copy paste operation.

Seems to be quite an improvement. Thank you for the tip! But it would be even better if it had "stylus mode" because, with a precision stylus, it's easier to tap directly alternate characters than to drag from the center of the button toward the needed variant.

This is also the first I have heard of this keyboard, it is incredible.

In gboard we've already got modal stuff for numerical keypad, emojis, special characters (2 different modal pages), etc.

Adding one more modal keyboard page for cursor-editing (arrow keys, ctrl-arrow-keys, home/end, pgup/godown, select-toggle-button, delete, rclick menu) would just make sense. Would just be getting the rest of the desktop keyboard into the phone keyboard, nothing groundbreaking.

This exists on Android Gboard, though it's hidden in some menus by default. [0]

[0] https://www.xda-developers.com/gboard-v6-2-adds-cursor-contr... (2017)

Wow, indeed it's still there in GBoard!

Thank you for sharing, I could never have found it before knowing it exists.

Whoa, I had no idea (obviously). Note, that article is out of date, instead of the G icon, now it's a four-square icon. I don't know why they're not just using a standard hamburger icon, but whatever.

They already have an option to move your visit by dragging across spacebar. Why not just replace half of the oversized spacebar key with something useful?

TIL, thanks!

You can install blink shell, panic prompt, or whatever the popular iPhone ssh client of the day is and ssh over to your desktop to get a preview of how this would work.

Paired with a Bluetooth keyboard, it is fine IMO. The screen is a little bit small. Sometimes if I’m going to SSH from my phone, I’ll put the phone on a little stand in front of the keyboard, so it can sit more like a foot from my face, or whatever (normal cellphone usage distance). Or, I’ll put it in portrait mode farther away and think of it as “half a screen.”

Either way works fine for short stints. Nebulous concerns about eyeball heath for long sessions, although I have no real evidence to back that up, and we’re all screwed on that front anyway, right?

SSH isn't a solution. I'm trying to edit text here on my phone, not out on some server.

What GP is advocating is to replace the on-screen keyboard with a modal editing UX.

I do this all the time but I have not found a Bluetooth keyboard that is portable and not total junk. Do you have any suggestions?

I had a Logitech Keys-to-go I was quite happy with but recently got myself this 60% mechanical keyboard, mostly because you can get it with a case that doubles as a phone & tablet stand


Nope; I had a fold out one for a while but inevitably one side seems to go bad.

In the end I got Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard, I like the scissor actuation or whatever, but it is slightly too big to be as portable as a cellphone.

modal editing is just too much overhead for the average smart phone user.

I dunno, Samsung's default keyboard already has am implementation of modal editing, which was loved by most of it's users that I knew.

Not in the same way as vim, but you could hit a hot key to switch your keyboard to a navigation/select/copy+paste mode.

That's fine, the average computer user also doesn't use modal editing

There's tons of professional writers though, not to mention business users, lawyers, and other professionals that do lots of writing. It's pretty obvious that desktops are going the way of the dodo, and the aforementioned users need to write lots of text on mobile devices. I don't think modal text entry is any more onerous to learn than a graphic artist learning Blender or Photoshop, or an engineer learning Solidworks.

There may be fewer desktops, but laptops work the same way and they don't seem to be going away any time soon. I'm not aware of "tons of professional writers, lawyers, and other professionals that do lots of writing" who spend most of their writing time on the type of mobile devices described in this article.

I'm not saying they are now. I'm saying they will in the future.

I really doubt people are every going to give up big stand-alone monitors.

Putting cellphones on big standalone monitors might work. But in that case, we’ll probably also need to attach a pointing device and some way of entering text, so from a UI point of view, we’ve got a desktop.

Cellphones definitely have sufficient processing power for lots of typical office workloads nowadays… but using them in this way doesn’t seem to have caught on.

I dunno, eventually this sort of discussion ends up at “why didn’t DeX take over the world,” a question for which I have no good answers, since, like everyone else, I never tried it out.

I occasionally use DeX. It is fine, if you are needing to read email, browse the web, or do simple word processing, or need a touch interface for drawing. If I'm going to sit down and work for multiple hours, I'd rather be using my desktop applications.

No, the aforementioned users do not need to write lots of text on mobile devices - a professional writer will choose or adapt their devices and environment to best suit the needs of their writing work, not adapt their writing to better suit the limitations of the devices; instead it's all the "casual" users who need to make do with whatever device they have on hand even if that device was optimized for entirely different needs.

I don't think so, but the mode change can't be some obscure thing slightly changing in the status bar.

But nowadays you can install custom keyboards on every OS that could probably get you most of the way there.

Do you know of an example?

Sadly, no. There certainly are lots of novel keyboards out there that can be googled up, but perhaps the kinds of features that would make a vim/modal-type keyboard be interesting and useful on mobile require further API hooks into the standard text-input controls (to be able to do things like find word and line boundaries, perform complex selections and replacements, etc).

I wonder if ultimately, the advantages of a "stay on the home row" philosophy like vim has just don't really manifest when there's no longer a physical keyboard as the underlying HMI. But the core idea of doing something modal and separating movement/selection from input does still feel valuable.

The problem is far from invisible (to me at least). A few months ago on HN I used text editing as an example of how iOS wasn't ready for "business" use. I can't find the comment now, but my memory is that I listed several of the issues listed in this post and said something like "Text creation/editing is core to the 'business', non-content-consumer use case. Apple needs to either acknowledge these problems and work to solve them, or admit they cannot solve them and stop pushing this narrative." It's especially telling that the author references Apple's 3D Touch as being an enabling technology here, when Apple shipped it without thinking of a valid use case for it, and then discontinued it after several years of still not thinking of a valid use case for it.

It's interesting to me that Google had Tablet Tuesdays. One of the things I've said many times is that it's obvious when a company actually does the thing they're pressing users to do. Google obviously uses gmail, and just as clearly never used any of the social products they released. But I think Tablet Tuesdays doesn't accomplish the thing they hoped it would: if you can use a regular computer 4 days out of 5 -- or maybe 5 out of 6 :-( then you can limp along on that one day and not have enough incentive to actually solve the problems. "Tablet Tuesdays" should have been "Tablet Teams" -- whole groups of people forced to use nothing but a tablet, with no way to hide from the problems that caused.

Eloquent seems like an excellent existence proof that better is possible. Personally, I would try multi-touch gestures to solve some of the problems. It might be (okay, likely is) too complex a solution, but Apple (at least) can detect up to ten(?) separate touchpoints. That would be absurd, but I'd be curious to try copy/paste with multi-touch shortcuts. And it seems that selection might benefit from multi-touch as opposed to the (admittedly clever) pressure hack Eloquent is using.

> A few months ago on HN I used text editing as an example of how iOS wasn't ready for "business" use. I can't find the comment now

Was it this one? <https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=36536203>

Yes! -- I'm curious if you had some efficient way to find that?

Front page of HN (or any story page), search box at bottom of page. Enter “gcanyon iOS”. Click on “Stories” and change it to “Comments”. Click on “Popularity” and change it to “Date”.

(Actually I first entered “gcanyon iOS business”, but did not find it.)

Wow, I had never scrolled down and noticed that. I was trying google searches, which were not doing the trick.

Thanks! TIL

> Google obviously uses gmail, and just as clearly never used any of the social products they released

Employees use for example Gmail and Google Docs, and it's critical to their productivity.

It can be hard to get the same feedback loop for other products. Some Google employees used Google+, but not that many, and they didn't need the same features as external users. And even if they complained internally about some things, it was not critical anyway.

Yep, docs is another example where it's clear google uses it internally.

I think it may be a pun since the cursor and the menus are invisible (or hard to see) under the problems described :-)

My biggest problem in editing on mobile is changing a text selection (for example a long URL or long text paragraphs) that don't fit on screen at once.

Once I have to scroll (vertically or, even worse, horizontally) in addition to moving the selection handles the UX is just terrible.

I don't know about IPhone but on Android its simply impossible to Paste text between two words. You can't paste text into cursor position you can only replace selected text with Pasted text.

Thats my main biggest issue.

Also, why the fuck there no Copy/Paste buttons on mobile keyboard??

You actually can paste between words but it's hidden (like most things with mobile text editing) You need to place the text cursor between the words carefully, tap the 'teardrop' on the text handle, and that will bring up the menu to paste. (not saying that's good!)

Just tried this. I find tapping to bring up the teardrop sometimes changes the cursor position.

It's quite unfortunate the paste button is not always shown when editing. At least the teardrop (if not an edit bar) should be shown when using long press spacebar to move the cursor.

Which is to say you can't as several of those actions are impossible for humans to do with enough accuracy.

Holding the spacebar makes moving to the correct location possible. Not easy, but possible.

Edit: Ah, but then the teardrop goes away.

So I guess not really a solution. Sorry.

Wow.. TIL you can tap the tear drop, thanks!

Lol, same here, I've been using Android since 2011 and had no idea it was trappable

all these years ive been typing in a letter A where i want to paste something, then double tapping the A to highlight it and then selecting paste :/

Thank you for teaching me this! Not very discoverable!

I really like the additional controls AnySoftKeyboard[1] brings: I like to configure it so that it always displays a left/right arrow above the keyboard to move the cursor. And if you "lift" (gesture up) the space key, there is an additional copy/paste (with clipboard manager)/arrows/selection/undo/redo/etc menu, which is quite useful[2].

Unfortunately I stopped using it in favor of OpenBoard[3] due to subpar autocorrect, especially when typing in French[4].

[1]: https://f-droid.org/en/packages/com.menny.android.anysoftkey...

[2]: screenshot from f-droid: https://f-droid.org/repo/com.menny.android.anysoftkeyboard/e...

[3]: https://f-droid.org/en/packages/org.dslul.openboard.inputmet...

[4]: https://github.com/AnySoftKeyboard/AnySoftKeyboard/issues/10...

I'll have to try OpenBoard. Right now I'm using ASK and I really want to like it, but it's just slightly too janky and rigid. The customizability is nowhere near good enough. There's too many behaviors that seem hardcoded and impossible to change. Like when my battery is below 15%, autocorrect and haptics are turned off. Who thought that was a good idea?! Now my phone is almost useless for typing when the battery is low.

I really miss Swiftkey :(

I eventually learned to place the cursor, squiggle a little random swipe (and a blank) that I can then select and replace. It's certainly an unintuitive nuisance, but my personal biggest issue is something else:

No advanced keyboard seems to have a setting to not force an automatic blank after each and every swiped word, no advanced keyboard beyond the original Swype that was abandoned a long time ago. Some have elaborate workarounds for fixing blanks before punctuation, but none seem to allow to leave space bar operation to me. I use a lot of composite words (hello from Germany) and the forced blanks are just infuriating. So I use anancient keyboard that was abandoned at some point between flappybird (composite word!) and 2048 or earlier and can only hope that Android keeps doing acceptable backward compatibility...

have you tried florisboard? i would probably use that as my main keyboard but the way it doesn't add a space after words when you swipe something kind of bugs me, especially after getting so used to it with other keyboards

There are copy/paste buttons on Gboard, but they're kind of hidden. Press the 4 squares in the top left of the keyboard and select Text Editing. You get arrow keys, a button for toggling select, and cut/copy/paste. In a way it's like switching out of insert mode in vim.

It's actually gotten better since the clipboard key is in autocomplete bar in gboard now.

If you have something in clipboard:

1. Place your cursor

2. Yes, I know you fat-fingered the exact position. Drag on spacebar to slide the cursor around (Holy crap this is the most non-discoverable feature).

3. Press the clipboard button to show clipboard menu (or, if the clipboard button isn't showing, use the 4-square menu to get it).

4. Paste the thing.

What if I don't want the keyboard monitoring my clipboard? Nothing should be monitoring my clipboard. If I choose to paste from the clicked, at that point you can look at it, not before.

On android you need a bit better keyboard that has 'paste' as part of the keyboard. It does paste at the caret position

The hacker keyboard and unexpected keyboards both offer ctrl-[acvx]

You can long-press spacebar on iOS to get a trackpad-like behavior. And you can tap somewhere else to even select like that. Awkward, but it works.

Came here to say the same: editing a URL is very painful. I wish I could use a multiline editor for the URL.

My URL editing routine on Android:

- copy the URL to clipboard

- open "Fast Notepad" app, paste

- edit, copy, paste

I agree, URL editing is infuriating especially with long URLs with massive tracking query strings (e.g. anything opened from Facebook). But not only. Sometimes I want to change subdomain of a long URL (e.g. from reddit to old.reddit) and it requires a lot of scrolling to the left.

> We saw this in our user testing when users tried to place the text cursor accurately: they would miss by a few characters...

One small thing: I don't know how it works on Android, but I used to have an N9 and then the Jolla phone and you could tap anywhere in text to place the cursor there.

iOS doesn't let you, except confusingly on the very first tap that activates the cursor. For subsequent taps, you can tap exactly where you want in the middle of a word and it always snaps the cursor to the start or end of that word.

I'm pretty good at aiming at the right character to edit even with big fingers on a small screen. Let me do it!

Hold down the space bar and you can move the cursor wherever you want, also on Android. I'm surprised more people don't know about this feature.

I know about it, but that's a second action (moving it after tapping), or a more difficult one (moving it all the way there via the spacebar touchpad). Most of the time if a tap would put the cursor where I tapped, it'd already be there.

Edit: I just discovered now that if you long-press on the text to place the cursor, you get a little magnified view and it does let you place the cursor in the middle of a word. So that's probably the most efficient method currently available.

> Edit: I just discovered now that if you long-press on the text to place the cursor, you get a little magnified view and it does let you place the cursor in the middle of a word. So that's probably the most efficient method currently available.

I chuckled a little at this as this is one of the oldest features of iOS, probably even from back in the pre-iPhone 4 days.


In my defence apparently it was removed in iOS 13 and only recently came back.

It's just another example of how mobile UIs are bad due to their form factor: they lack discoverability.

It was still there but it required a force click anywhere on the keyboard.

> probably even from back in the pre-iPhone 4 days.

The first iPhone I got was a 3GS and it had the feature. The person at the apple store helpfully demonstrated it to me when I went to pick it up.

> I chuckled a little at this as this is one of the oldest features of iOS

Reminiscent of how I feel whenever I copy and paste something on Android

Holding down the space bar on my (Google) keyboard brings up a popup to change the keyboard. Sliding my finger along the space bar shifts the cursor.

I miss my very first Android phone (the original HTC Desire) which had a tiny hole they called an "optical trackball" that worked incredibly well for selecting text.

Ah, that makes me think of the PlayStation Vita and its back-side touchpad. This could be a nice addition to smartphones. The only (substantial!) challenge is to make it usable while holding it.

How would they? Apple loves to put useful features that are completely hidden unless you know the secret incantation to activate them.

> I'm surprised more people don't know about this feature.

If only apps and phones had a manual to describe the functionality available...

On Android it often stutters, the cursor jumps across the characters at random speeds, sometimes it teleports sometimes it moves one character at a time smoothly. When you lift your thumb it often registers as an extra motion in an unexpected direction. And this is on a flagship Google phone. And it only allows left-right motion, not up-down.

So even if you know about it. It's more an exercise in frustration than anything.

It's not "on Android", it's whichever keyboard came with your phone. On iOS extremely small number of people use non-standard keyboard(it was later allowed), but on Android the keyboard was always an app and there are many.

It's the Google keyboard on a Google phone. Out of the box experience.

The Google keyboard on a Google phone for some locales can be very different. Notably, the keyboard for Japanese doesn't do the spacebar thing, on the other hand, it contains actual keys to move left and right.

That's not been my experience on Android, I can go left right up down just fine. I've tried this on SwiftKey keyboard however but I'm sure it's the same in GBoard.

It's really bad in GBoard. I just tap the text itself and if I get close enough to what I want to edit I just backspace and retype. I regularly remove 5-10 characters just to fix a single mistyped one.

I do the same. It's really bad. US English version.

I do have long press on space bar to switch between EN/FR dictionary. I wonder if that makes things worse.

I am using the Google keyboard, android 13, and I cannot go vertical only horizontal.

On my budget Samsung Android it works great.

People don't know about it because it's not discoverable.

I knew it, but I had to be told, and it's not too intuitive

> I'm surprised more people don't know about this feature.

I have an iPad without that feature, and it's maybe 5 years old? I think it's a newer feature.

Also, in the past you could tap and hold on text and it would magnify the view around where you were tapping, but that feature was dropped at some point.

> Also, in the past you could tap and hold on text and it would magnify the view around where you were tapping, but that feature was dropped at some point.

This is back in iOS/iPadOS 15.

It's been on the iPhone since before it was even called "iOS" and it's there today. It never went away, so I wonder what you are talking about.

Hmmm ... nonsense apparently!

I got my iPad, tried several different apps, and I now see that the feature is present in all of the ones I tried.

I think what I did differently this time was hold the spacebar down long enough for the feature to kick in. On my android phone there isn't that long of a delay, so I think that's what threw me off.

Thank you for the correction!

How is anyone supposed to discover that?

At least for SwiftKey, it's one of the settings you can enable/disable.

I know about this in Swiftkey, but since I'm using more than one language, this action is used to change languages instead. It's unfortunate because moving the cursor is very useful.

Swipe changes the language but a long press activates the cursor in Android

How am I only discovering this now..

You know what was great about text selection on the N9? When you dragged the cursor, you got that haptic tick-tick-tick for each character the cursor passed over. I'll admit I don't entirely understand why this was so beneficial, but somehow it made it substantially easier to get the cursor to the right spot.

Yeah man, everything about the N9 merged hardware and software well. Like the curved glass and smooth edges going along with the edge swipe interaction.

I also used to move my cursor with high accuracy and I wish it was still an option.

There are 3 ways to position the cursor on iOS in normal input fields: 1. long tap 2. long tap on spacebar 3. move 2 fingers simultaneously on the iPad virtual keyboard (iPad only). For all the frustration i had with the iOS keyboard, it‘s actually quite good. Real problems are often created by 3d-Party JavaScript tools, a old version of codemirror for example.

I typed 55wpm on my blackberry without looking. The fact that you have to constantly look at the screen keyboard and correct it is a huge attention suck and kills my input speed

On blackberry, a mistake was one wrong character. On screen keyboards with swipe and autocorrect, a mistake can be inserting 1 or 2 random words

Screen keyboard doesn't work in the rain

while we're griping:

- on an older android device the built-in keyboard is such a pig that it sometimes requires you to slow down to like 1 character per second. Note that this worked fine on a nexus 5 with aosp a million years ago, so it's not like it's not a solved problem

- Swipe keyboard is in theory good, but the keyboard can't switch from swipe <-> tap smoothly enough and usually causes an error

- droid has the ability to drag inside the spacebar to move the cursor, but the first time you do this, it inserts a word instead because it's confused about what mode it's in

Typing is a separate problem. And if you want a physical keyboard on a mobile device you can actually have one. But that still won’t solve editing.

Editing on your blackberry was even clunkier than the touch affordances that this post is about - just cursor keys, right? Now, you might argue that if you can type fluently you won’t need to edit as much - but the point here is about enabling mobile devices to be much more than just message input devices, but actually to do things like revise documents. You’re not using text manipulation affordances just to correct typos but to make significant changes to existing bodies of text.

Though in fairness to awinter-py, given that text entry is a simpler task than text editing, if typing support is already insufficient, editing won't be any better.

I'm typing this at a hardware keyboard on a desktop computer. I've had to make multiple short edits, mostly backspace/retype, as I enter this short comment. The fact that I can look at the screen rather than have my attention focused on the keyboard is itself a huge benefit to writing.

Using a touchscreen literally makes me dumber in ways I cannot afford. Previously noted: <https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=37521911>.

yes 100% to your link

in my experience all screen input has high cognitive workload

(even taps, because modern touch UX has small targets and unpredictable animation timing when you open a menu)

US navy blamed touch input for a boat collision and swapped out some touchscreens for physical controls

I find I almost always prefer using a stylus to a finger. That's the Onyx's pencil (previously as Staedler, unfortunately since broken). I can see what I'm tapping on with the stylus, positioning is far more precise, and it doesn't smudge the screen.

It's still hell for text editing, however.

Unless I'm doing actual handwritten note-taking, which might be another option.

no the blackberry had a physical trackball with toothy tactile feedback for motion and a mechanical click action

you could scroll vertically and horizontally

I don't remember if you could highlight, but there was a shift key so I'm assuming yes, and I vaguely recall double-tapping backspace for whole-world deletion

Yes, you could (comfortably) hold shift whilst using the trackball, and it workd very well.

I was the same way. I only had a Blackberry for a short while -- a BlackBerry Bold 9000 (got it in 2009). It was my stop-gap between plain cell phones and my first Android phone (a Droid 4, got it in 2013). Then I moved to touch screens with the Samsung Galaxy S4. I'm currently a Pixel 7 user.

Nothing ever matched the typing speed of the Blackberry Bold 9000. I was slowed down a bit by the slide-out on my Droid 4, and slowed down a TON by switching to touch. I could actually "do email" on my Blackberry. At essentially the same speed as my laptop. But, even today, with many years of practice, including swipe, text prediction, and all the rest -- writing a mid-size email on my phone is excruciatingly slow vs my typing/thinking speed. Even more frustrating is that when people observe me typing on my touchscreen, they'll say, "my goodness, you type SO FAST." And I'll just think, this is half-speed for me.

As a simple example, sometimes I try to transcribe text from a podcast I'm listening to on my phone. It's basically impossible -- I have to go back frequently, slow it down to 0.7x audio speed, etc. But, if I transcribe text on my laptop, I can do it so fast that I type ahead of the speaker, even a fast talker. It makes a difference. I could have transcribed a live speaker on my Blackberry Bold. I could even type at thinking speed, which was great. Alas. Two steps forward, one step back.

* correction, Droid 2 in 2010 was when I switched away from Blackberry. I then went to the Droid 4 in 2013.

I think autocorrect is overrated and actually makes the typing process much more annoying. Also I’m not sure if 55wpm is supposed to be fast or not? I just did a typing test (monkeytype.com) on my iPhone and got 80 wpm with 0 mistakes, and I don’t use autocorrect.

1) impressive, 2) try without looking

Just tried and got 72wpm with 97% accuracy without looking… though honestly I think not looking is a bit pointless, since the keyboard is so close to the text anyway. It’s not nearly as jarring as looking at your keyboard when typing on a desktop.

fwiw: 46wpm 80% droid, 31wpm 80% iphone S, 120wpm 98% laptop

47wpm 86% droid with glide disabled (but I'm not dissing glide, it just gets in the way in pure-tap situations)

Yeah your laptop/desktop speed is faster than mine, I’m somewhere between 100-120wpm there. I wonder if my faster phone speed is due to my weird typing style where I use my left thumb and my right index finger? heh

Earlier this year I spent some time with a Unihertz Titan Pocket, which sports a physical keyboard. It gave a vastly better typing experience than any other smartphone I've interacted with.

You can disable autocorrect and get your old behavior. I don’t understand this complaint. The only thing missing is feeling the keys, but this is completely fixable:

> a mistake can be inserting 1 or 2 random words

You can disable autocorrect, but then you have also disabled swipe texting, which is much faster.

The vast difference in editing things on a MicroPC with its touchpad and physical keyboard versus a phone is immense. I'm pretty sure I can legitimately type faster and usually navigate UIs faster on a capacitive touch phone, but the frustration of typing and targeting the cursor is unbelievable even after having used smartphones for over a decade now. It's just bad.

It is amusing that it's hard to convince people this is a problem, but I sort-of understand. Over time people have learned to just, not edit text on mobile. There's relatively powerful versions of office suites on modern mobile OSes, certainly more powerful than Windows CE devices that had full keyboards would ever ship with, and yet most people don't even really consider doing much on mobile other than sending messages and taking notes, two things that rarely require dragging the cursor. When editing things you quickly type out, gestures like dragging the spacebar to move the cursor around is usually "good enough" for making small edits to fix typos or change the wording, which makes it feel like a non-issue.

On Pinephone with Squeekboard, I greatly miss the ability to drag on the spacebar to move text, and even slightly miss the ability to swipe across keys to type. And yet, the weird thing is, even though text editing on Phosh is significantly less refined than either Android or iOS... I ultimately don't have much harder of a time doing it. And I think that speaks volumes on its own.

Every time I pick up my pinephone I feel immense disappointment in what forms of interaction most devices are stuck with today, despite how easily alternatives can be implemented in an open platform as the pinephone has shown. But for just editing text, I find vim and emacs surprisingly usable with a touch keyboard, as long as numbers and needed symbols and modifiers are on the base layer.

Precise pointing / fat fingering is solvable for text editing and in general by using the touchscreen for relative input - like a touchpad. That's possible on the pinephone with a userland program that directly interfaces with evdev and uinput in a really simple way[1], taking the ability to run desktop software well beyond being a party trick. All it's missing is a scheme where single, double, or two-finger taps and drags are either relative or absolute to avoid having to switch modes. Or, because the touchscreen, like most, reports touch area, one might have a go at cloning force touch.

[1] https://gitlab.com/CalcProgrammer1/TouchpadEmulator

For swipe input, wvkbd[2] has experimental support that works amusingly well for how sucklessly it's implemented (see the readme), albeit only for long words or reduced dictionaries - so many possibilities, like having zsh write completions to a file. It does need a patch to not interfere with normal typing. Spacebar swiping would also be straightforward to patch (or on sxmo into lisgd instead*). Alternatively, a small key could receive a 4-way swipe gesture like the trackpoint that Windows 10 Mobile had. (btw, hey, the MessageEase patent expired...)

[2] https://git.sr.ht/~proycon/wvkbd

* <rant>I don't know how the devs tolerate the latency that sxmo_inputhandler.sh brings - handling basic OS shell gestures in a long shell script on a platform where every expansion piped to grep causes a noticeable increase in latency is very unsuckless!

Ah, I've tried to make my Steam Deck+sway setup usable when undocked, but there are bugs everywhere, from wvkbd mishandling seats or straight up drawing an invisible user interface, to sway not detecting gestures (lisgd seems to work well, though). There are plenty of physical buttons on that platform, but it seems the default kernel driver does not handle them (need to have Steam running, which then sends input through... X11).

It doesn't help that the interfaces for emulating and intercepting input are very rough or experimental (well, there's libei but wlroots doesn't support it). Maybe I should work on a libinput wrapper or my own "parent" compositor?

Anyway, all touchscreens should be able to sense 3D coordinates, which could be used to move a cursor around the screen while hovering. This could be very usable, especially the cursor is shown above the finger position so it isn't hidden. This alone would help a lot with the issues pointed out in the article.

I really wish I could bring myself to get into sxmo more. It seems like something I'd like, but I mostly find myself confused when I try to use it. Even if it's not perfectly suckless, maybe it's a bit more in the "suckless" dimension than I can bear--I did like dwm for a while, but I switched to i3wm and later Sway and never really looked back.

There's obviously a lot of small little projects that implement cool ideas, but one thing that is a little bit of a bummer is that there's really no obvious solution that you can flash onto a Pinephone and call it daily-driver ready. It would really be nice if standard-ish Linux desktop environments could be adapted to work well on phones; I mean, at this point, the proof-of-concepts are enticing enough for me to believe that it'd be worth the effort. That having been said, I've been wondering if maybe to get the Pinephone to a working state, if it'd be better to actually go for a very minimal base system and try to build a more or less non-standard usermode. Something like, musl, pipewire, eg25-manager, a custom wlroots compositor that implements most of the actual phone features directly, and some simple system software to go under it (file browser, terminal, etc.) The main thing I really want is to get the absolute best possible battery efficiency, something that can manage rtcwake to occasionally check for notifications and handle some basic alarm clock functionality, and intelligent enough system software to e.g. restart the EG25 when it seems to be stuck. (Usually on Phosh + Debian, restarting the eg25-manager systemd unit is enough, so apparently it'd be good enough to just find a way to detect when it's stuck and restart eg25-manager.) It's a lot of work, and I admit that it feels like you'd be going a tad in the direction of Android by ditching most of the standard userland. But on the other hand, there's so many damn projects involved with most functionality in the device that it is a bit difficult to even know where to start when it comes to troubleshooting, and in my opinion it'd still be nicer than Android if the userland was "standard" enough to still run typical desktop apps and run more-or-less stock kernels.

Then again, for now, I feel my frustration would be better spent trying to debug what's already there. I'm wondering if maybe it would be possible to improve the wake times, for example... I have a sneaking suspicion that most of the resume time is taken before the Linux kernel gains control, but maybe it'd be worth trying to get something like pmgraph running to see if there's any room for improvement.

- Take laptop, remove the keyboard, nerf the OS, call it "mobile"

- Wait for someone to point out that text editing is no longer practical

- "I am not anti-mobile. My goal is not to return back to the desktop, but to move mobile forward."

Why? Why should we privilege an intentionally nerfed computing experience as the inevitable future? Almost every trend "mobile" is pioneering is bad.

> Why should we privilege an intentionally nerfed computing experience as the inevitable future?

The fact that the author worked at Google should be a hint. Advertising companies like Google want desktops and laptops to be left behind in favor of phones and tablets specifically because of the inferior, more locked down and consumption-focused computing experience they provide, and I'm guessing this idea is hammered into all their employees.

I agree with your general point but there's nothing inherently bad about the smartphones themselves. They are perfectly good computers, it's these big corporations who turn them into locked down approved content consumption machines. We shouldn't be dismissing these computers just because of that, we should be working to empower ourselves to use them to the fullest with projects like postmarketOS.

I'm waiting for the new Pixel to come out so I can buy it and run grapheneOS on it. Then I'll try to port postmarketOS to my current phone.

Like the linked article says,

> Mobile devices were originally designed for consumption

... and will always be consumption devices.

A television isn't a substitute for your laptop either.

Just because something is designed for consumption doesn’t mean we should ignore text editing.

The fact that there are other devices that are better at text editing is a horrible reason to leave text editing on mobile devices as a terrible experience.

Phones, sure, but there’s plenty of good productivity and creation software available for tablets. And these days, most productivity software runs in the browser anyway.

Termux lets you turn your Android phone into a software development environment. It's surprisingly good.

>My goal is not to return back to the desktop, but to move mobile forward."

>> Why should we privilege an intentionally nerfed computing experience

How would "mov[ing] mobile forward" privilege mobile?

How would it impair your experience on your desktop?

The implication is clear from the wording. Desktop is "back", mobile is "forward".

Someone being “mobile forward”, doesn’t hold desktops (or mobile laptops) back.

That’s a false dichotomy.

Because using my phone while lying down in bed or sitting in my couch is so much more comfortable than using a bulky laptop or personal computer while sitting in a chair. I've written way too much code inside Termux. It's gotten to the point I only use my laptop to edit open street map now.

I'm looking for a way to build new Android apps inside Termux itself. Wonder if anyone here's managed it.

I wrote programs on my calculator in high school, an ostensibly narrowly focused device with computing power generously estimated at well under 1% that of your phone, made by a company that didn't really give two shits about their device's programming community.

Therefore, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that if someone as dedicated as you is struggling to write programs for your phone, on your phone, it's because you're being actively discouraged from doing so. Demand better! As a consumer the only voice you have is your wallet. Can you not find a real computer that's comfortable to use in bed?

> Can you not find a real computer that's comfortable to use in bed?

Real computers are not made for that. I don't think there's a comfortable way to use a keyboard and mouse while lying down.

I had better luck trying to find a bed for use with computers instead of the other way around. Even that was extremely difficult. I'd need an over bed or zero gravity workstation that's more expensive than the computer itself. I can't justify this cost for my recreational programming.

>I don't think there's a comfortable way to use a keyboard and mouse while lying down.

If a genie appeared and gave me one wish right now, I would wish for everyone in the world to get a free GPD Micro PC. Plus a spare one.

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