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From T9 to iTap

Sun Advocate/Emery County Progress

As cell phones continue to percolate further into society, so does text messaging, or the act of sending text-based messages from phone to phone. It should come as no surprise that manufacturers are continually working on ways to make text entry easier and faster on devices that seem to get smaller and more compact each year.

There are several text entry methods that are supported by most mobile phones - ABC and T9. ABC is, for some, the easiest to understand. If the user wants to type the word "Utah" they'd press 8-8, 8, 2, 4-4. Quickly pressing the 8 key twice, for example, will type the letter "U". Quickly pressing the 4 key three times will type the letter "I".

The ABC method works, but requires a lot of key pressing to compose even short messages. T9, which uses intelligent word completion, stepped in to fill in that void. Using T9, one can compose messages with a fraction of the key presses that ABC would require.

To type "carbon" for example, a user would press 2-2-7-2-6-6. If the word "carbon" doesn't immediately appear, the user must press zero to shuffle through all of the word combinations that can be made with those key presses. Once the right word is found, the user can continue typing.

But T9 isn't always the most intuitive. In some cases, T9 displays the wrong word, and repeated guessing (the user pressing the zero key again and again) doesn't produce the wanted results. In other cases, T9 requires so many repeated zero key presses that it almost makes the auto-completion a moot point.

As a result, many cell phone manufacturers have been working on more intelligent solutions that are designed to let users type words and phrases with the fewest keys possible. Motorola has developed a strong competitor to T9 called "iTap" that many call a "predictive text technology" which is supposed to make text messaging and phone-based note-taking a lot easier.

On a supported phone, the iTap mode really kicks in after the user has typed more than three or more characters in a row. At that point, it'll try to guess the rest of the word. For example, once the user has typed "devel" (3-3-8-3-5), the phone may suggest the word "development." Word suggestions are provided in order of commonality, where more frequent words appear first.

If the phone's guess is correct, all the user has to do is press the "up" key on the direction pad. The whole word is inserted and the cursor is advanced. If the word "development" is not correct, the user simply presses the "right" key on the direction pad to sift through other possible word combinations. If one is found, pressing the "up" key will, again, complete the word and advance the cursor.

Unlike earlier renditions of T9, iTap can also complete words and phrases. XT9, however, which is the most recent version of T9, can also complete words and phrases.

Like T9 and it's siblings, iTap remembers words it does not recognize and may offer them later as possible completions.

So, in the end, which technology is better - T9 or iTap? The truth is, it's a matter of opinion, and depends entirely on the user's preferences.

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