iPhone: Why won't you let me type my name?

Are you a long time user of the iPhone? Do you feel like you're pretty proficient at typing on it, but not quite 100% adept at it yet? Don't worry, it's probably not you. It's Apple.

After a year of using my iPhone, I discovered that on both 1.0 and 2.0, it's impossible to type my name into my iPhone correctly the first time, even if you consider accepting or rejecting the auto-suggest as part of the normal process. You simply have to use the backspace key to type "hanford" -- it's impossible to type without it. Go ahead, try it. Go into Notepad and type "h a n f o r d" on your iPhone keyboard on your first try (without ever correcting using the backspace key), and reject the auto-suggest when it pops up. It will probably come out as "Handord".

But let's take a closer look. Go ahead and type a few more various words to reset the iPhone suggestion buffer (more on this later). Then try this:

  • Type h a n but when going for the f, press and hold down. Don't release.
  • You'll see that either the d or the g pop up instead.
  • Now slide your finger over a little bit to hit the f.
See what happens? The iPhone skips over the f and pops up the letter next to it. At this point, it is impossible to type hanf.

Now continue:
  • Type a d or a g instead. Then hit the backspace key.
  • Now try and type an f again.
Presto! You'll probably hit it immediately.

In short: You have to use the backspace key in order to type Hanford on the iPhone. You cannot type it without making a mistake.

And if this is not obvious to you: it's not just my name. There's lots of words that you've tried to type: shorthand, other people's names, abbreviations, that the iPhone simply won't let you type without making a mistake. You've probably just never noticed that it was the iPhone's fault, and not yours.

So what's going on with the iPhone keyboard?

In addition to the iPhone's auto-correct suggestions, the keyboard apparently has multiple "smart" modes, one of which is triggered when you type han. It's thinking there's no possible way you'd ever want to type the f next, and so it's mapping it out of the keyboard temporarily to make it easier to hit other keys. Except, in this "smart" case, it's actually making it impossible to type what you mean to, which means you're forced to make a mistake, no matter how accurate your typing is.

Pressing the backspace key will turn off this smart keyboard mode and allow you to type any key on the keyboard. But as soon as you complete your word by pressing space, the iPhone's system is reset, and trying to type hanford will again result in handord or hangord.

This is maddening. To fix it I had to add a dummy entry into my Contacts list.

Predictability and Smart Systems

I typically don't like "smart" systems (engines that have complex rules in order to try to do the right thing for the user) because more often than not they're not smart enough and therefore lack predictability. Predictability in a UI is extremely important; If a user can't consistently get their predicted results -- to be able to think a few steps ahead to mentally target where they're going -- they start to feel like they're not in control of the system.

The iPhone is even worse than others because its system forces advanced users who are adept at typing accurately on the iPhone into guaranteed mistakes that require the backspace to use. That's right: the iPhone punishes the expert user. It's why even after using the iPhone's keyboard for over a year I still don't feel completely adept at using it: because Apple has designed it in such a way that it is impossible to be.

NOTE: sometimes this smart keyboard is disabled; like in website fields. But in SMS and Notepad the smart option is always on.

Feedback - 6 responses

Displayed newest to oldest. Leave a comment.
I can't type it. wrote:   
hand...hand...hand...hand...hang...hang...j...hand...ham...hand...hand...hand...it's that damn f! What parent in their right mind would name a kid something that has an f in it? Have you considered seeing a therapist? I would also recommend that you change your name.
Billigflüge wrote:   
Kinda anoying, isn´t it? Pay so much money to get a phone that doesn´t work properly. I totally agree with you. It´s meant to be good to help the user but, sorry not this way. Are you at least able to correct the words and save them then, so the autocorrection will include your added words?
Hanford wrote:   
I think some people are missing the bigger issue here. It's not that I can't spell my name -- it's that the iPhone keyboard forces users to make mistakes when typing certain words, and in the process of aiding the beginner, it's punishing the expert user.
mare wrote:   
Set your keyboard to some different input language will work. But then autocorrect will be even worse than before. And changing it to UK English doesn't help; if your name is Hanford in the UK you're f*cked too.
Harry wrote:   
It's probably easiest if you just change your name to Handord. :-)
Campbell wrote:   
Dude, that cracks me up lol. Must be sooo frustraiting.

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