Sunday, 1 July 2012

Apple Wants To Make Autocorrect Less Comical

Apple Wants To Make Autocorrect Less ComicalMost iPhone users have a bit of a love-hate relationship with autocorrect. Designed to make typing on Apple’s touchscreen keyboard easier by fixing your mistakes for you, autocorrect often has exactly the opposite problem. Misspell a simple word in just the right way and autocorrect may replace it with way out of left field. 

Case in point: the lead image, which is a screen capture of a conversation I had with my wife a couple years ago. To this day I have no idea what misspelling of “bedtimes” led autocorrect to turn it into “beatings.” To be fair, most of autocorrect’s screwups are a little less alarming. But some are even more perplexing – for example, I also can’t figure out why when I type “forthe” (accidentally omitting the space) autocorrect assume’s I must be trying to type “Goethe” instead of “for the.” Or why half the time it turns “so” into “do.” At any rate, autocorrect has been the source of many a laugh, the cause many a misunderstanding, and the but of many a joke. There are even whole websites devoted to it, the most popular of which being

Apple, it seems, is not unaware of autocorrect’s failings, and has just filed a patent application for technology that would improve autocorrect’s ability to identify what you’re trying to say. The patent application, published yesterday (but filed in December of 2010) covers “[t]echniques to automatically correct or complete text” using “[a] string and keyboard timing information associated with entry of the string” to correctly determine the user’s intent. This technology would also detect the user’s average typing speed and incorporate that data.

In other words, with this technology your iPhone would note the exact time of each keystroke on its keyboard and, taking into account your typing speed, make determinations about whether to autocorrect or autocomplete, and about what suggestions to offer when autocorrecting. For example, in my “Goethe” example above, the iPhone would detect my typing speed and recognize the fact that the pause between the r and the t is longer than the average pause between letters in the same word, and would figure out that I meant to put a space there and simply missed the spacebar. Then, presumably, it would realize that I meant to type “for the” instead of assuming I was actually talking about an 18th/19th-century German poet and playwright.

Of course, this is a patent application, so there isn’t the slightest indication of when we might expect to see this sort of technology implemented. Nevertheless, the fact that Apple’s working on this is quite encouraging, especially for the more fat-thumbed among us.

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