[UPDATE: Just saw that Macworld published Typing on the iPad only yesterday. I generally agree with Dan Moren's thoughts, though I seem to prefer the portrait keyboard over the landscape. Well, sometimes.]
I decided to critique the iPad’s virtual keyboard in real time. The results:
The portrait keyboard is, in some ways, easier to use than the landscape keyboard. This really does depend, though, on how you’re sitting/standing relative to the iPad. For instance, right now I’m in bed, with the iPad lying on one propped-up leg. I have no problem with the small keys; actually prefer them on a virtual keyboard.
Now I’ll try typing in landscape. Well, that might be a tad easier. I can certainly use more than just my first and second fingers. You know, perhaps because I’m a violinist, I find it easier to use all the fingers of my left hand when typing. I have to really think when I use all the fingers of my right hand. Anyway…
Back to portrait. I typed all that in just a couple minutes. Easily as fast as I would’ve typed it on a physical keyboard, although my “deliberate” thought process is the real speed block. Despite my typing teacher’s advice to avoid looking at the keyboard, I’ve always been good at glancing back and forth quickly between the screen and my hands. So perhaps that becomes an advantage with a virtual keyboard.
Back to landscape. Now I’m typing with just my thumbs, which is what you might do when you can’t set the iPad down on something. This is probably only possible if you have large hands, and even then, it looks pretty ridiculous. The trick here is to hold the iPad with your other fingers, especially your pinkies, and to use your index fingers to kind of pull the iPad toward one thumb or the other as they fly around the bottom half of the screen. A split keyboard would make some sense, potentially, and could even duplicate the middle keys on each half of the split, so that you can choose which thumb gets to hit them.
In many cases, though, if you’re standing and typing, you’d probably hold the iPad in one hand and type with the other. And, if that’s the case, the landscape mode takes some getting used to. With practice, I can train my hands to cover the full width, but since they’re accustomed to only hitting one half or the other, they just don’t want to venture to keys on the other half. My right hand is better at this, despite what I said before about my left hand being able to more comfortably use all fingers. But thanks to cell phones, our thumbs have already gotten used to typing keys other than the space bar, so the remaining fingers can probably learn some new tricks as well.
In portrait, thumb typing isn’t too bad; it’s certainly easier to reach the middle keys. One handed typing is also do-able, and doesn’t seem as ridiculous as in landscape mode. This might be the most comfortable, though I also keep switching from one hand to the other.
I started out writing this in SimpleNote, then pasted it into the WordPress editor to finish. Really impressed and surprised at how well the editor works in mobile Safari, though you need to use HTML mode.
Man, is this thing slippery.