(This is a guest post by Dave D. from ThisGreenMachine.com. The original article can be found at this link.)
It’s not often that you see a project as daring as 8pen (pronounced eight-pen). More akin to modified cursive, the traditional concept of a keyboard is abandoned. While the letters are still present, “keys” have no place in 8pen. Instead of evolving the current method of input, developer Michael Fester turns it all upside down, and in the process questions the reasoning behind using the aged QWERTY format in a mobile environment. But as with many brave ideas, is it too much? Let’s take a look into the world of 8pen and find out.
Usage & Features
The first surprise for users is that there is no free or trial version available. The Market’s 24 hour return policy can be used as a backup plan, but such a short test period may lead to returns if users don’t have adequate time to practice. While £0.99 (approximately $1.59) isn’t an outrageous price, it still becomes an unneeded barrier.
Upon installing the app, the user is presented with a fairly thorough introduction – and believe me, you will need it. The entire interface consists of an “X” partitioning off four distinct quadrants. Each interior edge (eight in all) is lined with characters stacked four long. The basic concept starts with placing your finger on the center dot. From here, you move into the quadrant containing the desired character, and begin moving across one or more edges, in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise fashion, depending on where the character is located. For the character located nearest to the epicenter, only one plane needs to be broken, two planes for the second letter, and so on. Once the character is selected, move back towards the dot in the middle to complete the action. Simple enough, right?
Here’s where it gets tricky. You cannot lift your finger until you have finished a word. You must continuously move from one loop to the next to string characters together. Once the finger is lifted, a space will follow, ending the word. The problem is, if you can never lift up your finger, how do you ever locate the letters underneath? Because the letter placement is based on common usage, previously memorized groupings won’t help you. In order for this to be efficient, you’ll be forced to learn an entirely new character layout.
So why bother even trying 8pen? Because once you get the hang of it, it can actually be fun. After a day of heavy use (and plenty of cursing in the first hours), you can begin to see the appropriateness of the name. What starts out as single loops punctuated by pauses becomes a collage of spirals, figure eights, and curly q’s. The included text prediction works well enough, and a system of long holds adds special characters. A nice included feature is the programmable “gesture”. If you find yourself using a common word or phrase often, you can preset a custom gesture to trigger the phrase.
Pros & Cons
- A fun new way to input text, with the potential for speed and efficiency
- Wildly imaginative in a world content with iteration
- Custom gestures add speed to commonly used words or phrases
- No trial version
- Very steep learning curve
For users with large fingers lacking in dexterity, an option other than the standard hunt and peck can be a godsend. The real question is, will people bother to take time to learn the new system? The change to the norm is so large that a wide adoption will be a challenge to achieve. As with many great ideas and concepts, it may just be too much too soon. With alternatives available such as Swype that take a similar concept of “drawing”, but maintain a familiar interface, it is hard to envision 8pen as a serious contender.
- Polish: 3/5 – The interface is clean and simple, but could use a little more style.
- Ease of Use: 3/5 – This is a tough one. I hate to penalize the new concept for the learning curve. Once the layout is committed to memory, the ease of use should be around the top of the range, but it would be at the low end when the learning curve is considered. I’m going to take the easy road and split the difference.
- Features: 4/5 – Features gets a bump to above average for the innovative concept and added goodies such as gestures.
- Overall: 3.3 – If the concept looks interesting to you, give it a try. You can always return it within 24 hours if you don’t want to stick it out. You’ll definitely find out very quickly if it’s something you’re interested in learning.