iPhone app review: MessagEase text entry method

Summary:Back in the days when I had a dedicated Grafitti area on my Palm OS devices I discovered an alternative text entry method (2002 to be exact) that was designed with overlays that you placed on top of the Grafitti area. This text entry method was optimized for stylus entry to minimize the distance you had to travel to enter text since QWERTY keyboards are designed for two handed computer entry. Exideas developed the MessagEase form of text entry that has allowed me to enter text accurately and quickly on various Palm and Pocket PC devices over the years. They have now developed and launched an iPhone solution in case you want to use something other than the default QWERTY keyboard provided by Apple.

Back in the days when I had a dedicated Grafitti area on my Palm OS devices I discovered an alternative text entry method (2002 to be exact) that was designed with overlays that you placed on top of the Grafitti area. This text entry method was optimized for stylus entry to minimize the distance you had to travel to enter text since QWERTY keyboards are designed for two handed computer entry. Exideas developed the MessagEase form of text entry that has allowed me to enter text accurately and quickly on various Palm and Pocket PC devices over the years. They have now developed and launched an iPhone solution in case you want to use something other than the default QWERTY keyboard provided by Apple. I posted several screenshots of this solution in my image gallery and you can also check out my video below of me using MessagEase.


Image Gallery:Check out some screenshots of the MessagEase application in use.
Image Gallery: MessagEase keyboard
Image Gallery: Functions available in MessagEase

There is clearly a learning curve with MessagEase since it is so different than anything else you have seen. I learned the method several years ago and was able to pick it right up again quickly. I think if you spend the time to learn it you will find you can work quickly with it after several hours of practice. As you can see with MessagEase on the iPhone (iTunes link) they are not able to have MessagEase appear as a soft input method, like they can with Palm and Windows Mobile, because Apple has strict controls on the text entry methods. You need to launch the MessagEase application and then enter text on a blank canvas that you can then use in selected programs.

What can you use MessagEase for?

MessagEase is designed for quick text entry and at this time there are four areas where MessagEase lets you use the text you enter using their keyboard. MessagEase text can be used to post Twitter status updates, enter text into an email body (new or reply), enter text into a Google search box, or enter a web browser URL.
  1. To use with Twitter you need to first go into the MessagEase area of your iPhone settings and enter your user name and password. Then you can enter text, tap the flash icon and tap Twitter to post a Tweet and then it will be posted.
  2. To enter text into an email simply enter the text, tap flash, and then tap email to have the text pasted into the standard email program on the iPhone. To use MessagEase to enter a reply you first need to go into your email application and select Reply. Then launch MessagEase and perform the standard compose email steps (enter text, flash, email icon) to paste in the text.
  3. If you want to use MessagEase to enter text for an Internet search, simply tap away the text, tap flash, then tap Search. Safari will open up and your text will appear in a Google search box.
  4. MessagEase can also be used to enter an URL so tap away the text, select flash, then tap Internet to have the URL pasted into the URL line of Safari, opens up after you tap Internet.

As you can see there are limited uses for MessagEase by default, but you can always just copy and paste the text you enter into any program you like.

Entering text with MessagEase

Going back to the basic of entering text with MessagEase I highly recommend you watch the short Quick Start animation in the program to learn some of the basics. MessagEase is optimized for taps and slides to access every character, punctuation, and symbol quickly and efficiently. For more information on the research that went behind the development I highly recommend you read this white paper on the subject. To help you learn how to use MessagEase (admittedly very easy with the slick oleophobic display on the 3GS and glass display) they include several levels of a practice game in the application. Simply tap on MessagEase and then tap the Flash (lightning) icon followed by Learn MessagEase. You will be given the choices for start here!, center drags, outer drags, common words, and Champions Challenge! After you tap on your choice the game will start and you need to enter the words they show. MessagEase will measure you accuracy (number of misses and number of characters) as well as your words per minute. I played several games and am pretty consistent at 22 WPM using my iPhone. You have a chance to win a prize of $10,000 by playing the Champions Challenge and then scoring higher than 15 WPM, but I am not clear what the process is for entering this contest.

As you can see the MessagEase keyboard is primarily composed of 9 main blocks with ANI, HOR, TES in the center letter spot. Other letters are entered by sliding from the center to those letters. Punctuation is entered by sliding in areas where the symbols are identified (in areas where alternate letters cannot be found). There is a large space bar in the lower right, along with a backspace and return/enter block. Tapping the 123 block takes you to the number entry keyboard that also has punctuation and symbols available via sliding (same ones as on the ANI keyboard).

You can also slide down on the 123 button to clear out the text entered on the display. Sliding up on the space bar toggles the punctuation and symbols on and off.

The iPhone is a nice platform for this keyboard because the keyboard is quite large and works well with the capacitive touchscreen. My finger slides very easily with the oleophobic display too.

MessagEase settings

You can customize a few things with MessagEase to personalize the experience for your liking. You can choose from four fonts (Arial, Times, Courier, and Georgia), four font sizes, four font weights, keyboard click sound toggle, auto capitalization, show keyboard on start, and drag sensitivity/length. Practice a bit with MessagEase and see what drag works best for you since you may prefer shorter or longer drag than the default.

Recommended future updates

The standard iPhone cut, copy, paste and zoom functionality is all still supported inside MessagEase so you can use MessagEase to enter any text you want to paste into any program that supports copying and pasting (Quickoffice, Documents To Go, etc.). I would love the ability to customize the four default functions that are supported with a single tap in MessagEase since I use apps/functions other than the default four quite a bit. One capability that could take the place of most of these quick buttons would be to have a standard Copy button that will select all the text and copy it to the clipboard for any use I desire. I could then paste it into a text message, email, Word document, note, etc. in fewer steps than selecting and copying manually.

I would also like to see support for the predictive text technology found on the iPhone, but I rarely make mistakes with MessagEase since the method is pretty accurate by default.

I doubt Apple will ever let MessagEase be set to an optional soft input method, but placing MessagEase in the bottom menu will allow you to use it for most all of your text entry if you desire.

Topics: Smartphones, Collaboration, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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