User Input

User Input: User Input

Always wanted to try one of these...

Always wanted to try one of these…

Throughout the course of my day, I have the possible misfortune of using many of the most-maligned forms of input for various technological devices, often many times a day. I work with vehicles, most specifically Fords and Lincolns, which means I am extremely proficient with the various Sync and MyFord Touch technologies. In customer interactions, I frequently have to navigate the clunky Android and Blackberry interfaces to connect them through Bluetooth. I myself use an iPhone, and have a lengthy commute, meaning I use Siri at least a few times a day to listen to and respond to emails or text messages while I drive home. Hell, I’m even using a touch-screen phone, after I railed against it for over a year because I didn’t want to give up my actual buttons.

Arguably the only user interfaces more hated than those mentioned above are those for the various BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz infotainment systems such as iDrive and COMAND. While I don’t frequently use those, as the resident tech nerd on site, I do occasionally get asked for help navigating those systems on pre-owned cars on the lot.

Amazingly to me, since I tend to get easily frustrated by a poor user experience, I’ve grown accustomed enough to all these systems that they make sense, and I actually enjoy using them. Siri especially, with its tendency to misinterpret phrases, can be a whole lot of fun. The best I’ve ever experienced was when I gave Siri the command, “Send text: ‘I’ll be home in fifteen minutes comma I’ll call you then period'”.

Siri replied, “Okay, I have your text ready. It reads, ‘Happy gnome invisible mints come hell goal choose imperial.’ Would you like me to send it?”


Other than the keyboard, obviously, what user input technology do you actually enjoy using?

Hat-tip to OA5599 for inspiring this question from yesterday’s Startup.

  • I have become quite reliant on the Android voice commands – none of Siri's personality and for me that's a good thing.

  • CaptianNemo2001


    For me, it's the mouse. I don't use my androids voice commands as they are not the droid I am looking for.

    I see nobody noticed this. Though I suppose I got a bit obscure in the joke:

  • <img src="; width=500>

    I don't even have to look, and can operate them with heavy gloves on.
    (Note: Handlebars from GIS, not my bike.)

    • Number_Six

      I'm with you: there's nothing more satisfying than knowing you're doing well with your inputs, and the feedback you get if you're hamfisted lets you know immediately that you're being hamfisted.

      Other great user input devices can be found on quality SLR cameras: they usually have very satisfying action and detents.

      • Deartháir

        With regards to responsiveness; I have to include the pens the Professor made. Sweet leaping jeebus, they're the nicest pens I've ever owned, including some very expensive gift pens. Just the right amount of recoil in the pen tip to cushion the writing, a great weight, and a super-satisfying "snick" when you remove and replace the lid.

        • I've got to con, er convince him to make me one of those.

        • SSurfer321

          He's currently working on a 7" Santuko knife stand for the Mrs. and I; but may have to commission him for a pen. I've also heard he's got a peppermill in the fabrication stages that should be pretty sweet.

          • Deartháir

            If it's like this one he sent me, then yes, it's probably the greatest peppermill you'll own. If there were ever going to be kids to pass it down to, it would damn near be an heirloom.
            <img src="; width="450">

          • pj134

            We need to make him a website to show off his wares. Something simple with pictures of different things he's made and in a very large font. Maybe we could make it play tones on the right and left channels and when you get them right he charges you more. A "you and your damn youth" tariff.

          • SSurfer321

            That's fucking gorgeous! I'm gonna have to buy one of those too!

  • Deartháir

    Speaking of alternate input devices, this just appeared in my Twittifier today. If anyone would like to help me get my grubby hands on a Google Glass, and has a Tweetier account-thing, Twittify your support for @AtomicToasters, using the hashtag #ifihadglass to get one of their prototype units so we can use it in strange and creative ways. I even promise not to turn the camera on while I'm peeing. Remember, the hashtag is #ifihadglass, not #ifihadgas. That's a totally different contest, and not one we really want to join in on.

    • I predict a new syndrome called "Glass Eye" (or dare I wish it, 'Google Eyes'); unlike like 'Nintendo Thumb', Glass Eye will be a pan-corporeal plague of abrasions and contusions caused by running smack into uncamouflaged objects, and losing one's balance while trying to track ghostly images in the foreground.

      • Deartháir

        Honestly, I predict massive headaches. But that's why I want one; I want to test it out and see. Ever spent too much time emailing or texting on your phone and developed a headache? I expect this would be very similar.

        • SSurfer321

          You could always wear them over a pair of GUNNARS.

  • Felis_Concolor

    As I haven't spent much time learning the full syntax for Ford's MFT interface, I won't complain about its performance, but I am learning how to speak in a dialect it will recognize. And having experienced its default assumptions, I propose the acid test for any voice recognition system is to fill a USB memory stick or MP3 player with a full complement of Vollenweider and 2NU, then see if you can request the former without receiving the latter.

    For touch screen devices, I request a moment of silent appreciation for IBM's SHARK (SHorthand Aided Rapid Keyboarding) project and its fallout, specifically all those wonderful gesture keyboards which turn text entry into easy vector input. The irony is not lost on me, as Apple reached too far and came up woefully short in the early 90s with its Newton project, while US Robotics stole Apple's thunder with its PDAs and their shorthand-derived text input. IBM's research is what ultimately made tablets useful as input devices.

    Those rasterized laser keyboards are an excellent idea; integrate that projector into the bezel of a tablet and wrap it with a protective white pad as the carrying case, which becomes the typing surface to prevent the inevitable bruising of digits during text entry.

    • <img src=""&gt;
      For text input, Palm's Graffiti was the best of technologies and the worst of technologies. On the one hand, it forced the user to alter preexisting skills to adapt to the limits and quirks of the machine, which is rather offensive to me. On the other hand, once you sold out to that bargain, it actually turned out to be both rapid and accurate. The only thing that really bugged me was the road-warrior salesman at a former employer who used to leave post-it notes on my monitor handwritten in graffiti. He used his Pilot III so much it spilled over into his longhand by accident.

  • Devin

    I keep thinking that those laser keyboards would be the worst idea ever for anyone whose home contains a cat.

  • There's a satisfying freedom and directness to these.

    <img src=""&gt;

  • jeepjeff

    Keyboard or Death.

    Actually, my favorite text entry method on my stupid phone is this:
    <img src=""&gt;

    It works pretty well. There are sometimes when I can outpace it and it lags a little bit, but my fingers are too big for the tiny keyboards, and I don't trust any system which gives the computer some room for judgement on what I entered (see: damnyouautocorrect).

    I also have the ConnectBot SSH client on my phone and can do some admin work from my phone in a pinch. Yes. That means I use a Morse key to type Unix commands as a regular part of my job.

    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      That's genius! Pity about * though.

  • The Professor

    I've gotten addicted to having a thumbwheel on my mouses. I use a Cyborg R.A.T. 7 & 9 (7 is corded, 9 is wireless):

    <img src="; width="450" border="2" style="border:2px solid black;" alt=" " />

    I've programmed the thumbwheel for the scroll up and scroll down functions, and it makes navigating long pages of information much easier and faster, much more so than the mousewheel does. I really miss it when I have to use some other mouse for screen navigation.

    • B72

      Wow, that one goes up to 20!

    • Deartháir

      That thing is beautiful! I've never heard of it, and now I feel I must look into it further.

      • The Professor

        They're excellent mice, very modifiable. The battery life on the R.A.T. 9 isn't as good as advertised though, and I find that I have to swap them twice a day. That's my only bitch though.

        • Deartháir

          Found someone selling a used white R.A.T. 7 on Kijiji that would go nicely with the rest of the peripherals on my Hackintosh… except that new ones are selling for $109, and he wants $105. Um. What?

          • The Professor

            A white one? Never seen one of those before, I wonder how they would show dirt?
            And that guy wants $105 for a used one? Pass…

    • chrystlubitshi

      I've considered picking up a 7 model; but haven't been able to make the investment due to my love of my trackball

  • I've used the laser keyboards along with the freespace gesture interfaces. The laser is as tactile as any touchscreen, but the benefit to having a full scale or larger keypad is really nice. You can't quite type blindly, but it is a lot faster than most tap and type setups. The gesture interface starts to get really interesting when coupled with voice interaction. It's still weird to talk to a device, I find I still type thoughts better.

    I'm watching Google Glass and the developments in voice very closely.

  • chrystlubitshi

    I've been using this trackball (model) since about 2004… I'm on my 3rd one.

    <img src="; width="400">

    I like this thing a lot; plus it keeps a lot of people off of my computer!
    also, the "unofficial" computer input device of NCIS (or so I've noticed in just about every episode that I've seen)

  • SSurfer321

    I've been using a Trackman since about 2000 at home/work. I'm on my 2nd one. I have yet to purchase one for my current office though as I've gotten used to the mouse again.

    <img src=""&gt;
    IMG from Logitech

  • RahRahRecords