SiWriter: an app for all

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What is SiWriter ?

SiWriter lets you take notes by typing with just one hand, the other can hold the iPad. This is not 'hunt and peck' one finger poking, SiWriter provides finger-tip positioned active key areas on an iPad screen which you tap in easily remembered combinations. This will produces all the letters, numbers, punctuation marks and other symbols of the standard (Latin 2) character set - that is, everything an English reader would expect to have available.

The SiWriter is not a new idea, cool it certainly is, but it is not new. In use it looks like the 'Padds' in Sci Fi, people tend to notice as you rattle away SiWriting notes on an iPad, they won't hear you though, it is as silent as your fingertips.

The SiWriter app is a software implementation of the CyKey from Bellaire Electronics . The Cykey has the advantage of being a real, solid object, but the app is less expensive if you already have an iPad. The physical aspects of the Cykey make for a very pleasing tactile feedback for a note taker which SiWriter Pro intends to match by giving you absolute control over the pad positions.

The History

Many years ago, Doug Engelbart invented the mouse - you may have heard of that. He also invented a five switch text entry system which you probably have not come across. He introduced both ideas in what became known as the mother of all demos, but the chording system never took off. The plan was that each finger pressed keys in groups - or chords- following a code that resulted in text output, but people found, or thought they would find, the learning curve too steep. That was probably the reason too few even attempted to climb it. Even when microwriting was taken by Cy Endfield and put in to the Microwriter - it never really took off.

The code chording system was used in an award winning PDA called the AgendA and I used one of them until it wore out - then I wore out another. The AgendA hit manufacturing problems, but it was the 1980s and so you'd expect that, but it was not until 2000 or so that the CyKey replaced it. It uses the same codes Cy Enderby refined for the Microwriter and many people use it to this day, but, it has to be wedded to a large base station or a laptop to be of any use. I wanted the speed and ease of 'Qunikey' text entry but with the power of an iPad - and so I wrote SiWriter.

The difference.

SiWriter uses the touch screen as the five, now eight, keys. Sadly there is no simple way to check that your fingers are in the right place to press the pads correctly and there is no tactile feedback to say what is going on, and so you do have to use your eye to keep the fingers in the right place. This was not the advetised plan. It is possible to anchor down the iPad and your wrist and type without looking where your fingers are going - in just the same way as a QWERTY touch typist can, but that takes more effort than I wanted anyone to use, so I have abandoned the 'type while not looking' concept for now - you do have to look. So, what is the point ?

It is faster to type, faster to learn and it's possible to type on a bus or the tube, or standing - and - an iPad is much smaller than any laptop. There is the advantage - typing whenever and wherever you want.

iOS Simulator Screen shot 19 Feb 2014 11.28.18

The pads can be customised so that a right-hander can use the iPad at an angle - good for in-bed typing.