I’m back to the morning commute again in Sydney. The air is cool and crisp, the sky is a deep blue, I slept well, life is good. So what better thing to get into the swing of things than Back to Work:

Merlin: The iPhone and me [since 2008] had become pretty good friends at typing. Dan Benjamin, I don’t know what happened, but in the last three or four years one of us has lost it. I’m reluctant to blame it on the hardware or the phone software, but what I can tell you is things that are produced by me typing on an iPhone are not nearly as accurate or fast as they used to be.

Dan: Totally agree, and I don’t know what it is. 100% agree … I don’t know what’s dropped.

I’ve been using an iPhone as my primary portable device since the 3G, and I can confirm the same behavior. This confounds me for three reasons:

  1. Our phones are computationally faster than they were before, and algorithms must be more sophisticated. So theoretically, they should be quicker at predicting our text, and can be trained more effectively against our typing patterns.

  2. Our phones are larger in physical size and resolution, so we have more space to type than we did before. Aka, fewer typos from inadvertent or accidental presses of adjacent keys.

  3. We’ve been using these phones for a longer amount of time, so we should be more used to typing on them.

I’d wager this was introduced in my iPhone 8. The iPhone 6 I used before was the same physical dimensions, but I was more accurate. Then again, I was slower but far more accurate on my Palms than I ever was on an iPhone.

I think point three above comes closest to possibly explaining why. Apple may have improved the hardware and predictive software of their keyboards, but if its changed even 5% of how it works, existing users are thrown and the accuracy drops.

I’m in the same boat as Merlin, though I hadn’t recognised the behavior. I used to type tons of email on my phone, usually on my morning commute. I barely do it anymore, in part because I’ve been trying to strike a better home/work balance, but also because it crossed a frustration threshold recently. Unless something is critically urgent, I’d simply prefer to wait till I’m at a physical keyboard.

This is worthy of a much deeper discussion on the interaction between learned behaviour in humans, ergonomics, and machine affordances. Maybe our hardware is becoming too smart for its our own good, when the simpler system we had before worked better.