From the moment Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world a lot has been written about the lack of a keyboard. Mainstream media has been publishing articles about the big gamble Apple is taking by relying solely on an on-screen keyboard for input to email messages or IM messages. I agree that this is a gamble and we will have to wait and see how this is received by consumers. Most of these articles discussing the keyboard on the iPhone invariably get around to mentioning a great innovation by Apple for including the ability of the software to guess what word the user wants to input after just tapping the first letter or two. The iPhone uses a list of common words that start with those letters and then offers the option to just tap the word in a box to enter the whole word, thus saving the user the effort of tapping all the letters in the word. It is easy to see that this functionality is essential for an on-screen keyboard and is the only way such a keyboard would be tolerable.
This method of text entry was not invented by Apple, in spite of what these journalists are implying. This is called predictive text entry and it has been a stock feature on Windows Mobile devices for years and years. The Windows Mobile on-screen keyboard has always had this feature and the user can configure it to offer multiple word choices that pop up in the prediction box so the chance of the software offering the correct word is much more likely. It has always worked well and is nothing new, not by a long shot. The T9 text entry system has also had predictive text entry for some time and it works really well, especially on the Nokia phones that I’ve been testing recently. It learns over time what words you are most likely to input (even names and URLs) and it is uncanny how the word you want to enter is often the first choice in the list. Predictive text entry is a boon for text entry with keyboards on the screen and it will no doubt be useful on the iPhone. But come on, this is nothing new and Apple is not introducing anything new with this.