Creative keyboard replacement solution
by Kermit Woodall
I've reviewed a great number of alternates to the Palm's own Graffiti text entry system in the past. Some systems, like TealScript and Jot, offer direct handwriting recognition alternatives to Graffiti. Others take more of a keyboard approach--this is the category that Fitaly Stamp fits into.
Fitaly Stamp (which derives its name from one of the rows of letters in the same manner that the Qwerty keyboard derived it's name), as a product, has grown out of the software development that came before it. Textware originally developed the concepts behind Fitaly Stamp as a software package for the Palm handheld. Textware tested these concepts in their Dom Perignon contest to determine which input method was fastest among the onscreen Qwerty keyboard, Graffiti, and Fitaly. Although Textware only promotes a 50 word per minute (WPM) entry speed, three Fitaly users in this contest hit an amazing 60wpm or better!
One of the coolest things about the new Fitaly Stamp is that it solves the main problem the original software had--namely, that it took up too much of your screen. Since the original Fitaly was entirely software-based it required a significant amount of screen real-estate to put up it's keyboard. The Fitaly Stamp, on the other hand, overlays your Graffiti entry area with a 'screen-protector' that is imprinted with the Fitaly keyboard as well as the standard shortcuts. The Stamp provides a very quick way to enter text into your Palm. The software that comes with it works as a standalone application or as a Hackmaster 'hack'--your choice.
Version 2.0 of the Fitaly keyboard, which is the software included with Fitaly Stamp, has introduced the notion of sliding; that is, the act of moving the pen to another key after the initial tap. Sliding allows you to quickly enter capitals and digits. Most users have found it to be very natural and fast: it is much faster to slide a key than to tap a shift key and a given letter. To make a letter a capital you simply tap and slide a little and the letter is capitalized. If you want a number you have two options. You can tap the side of the half-square where the number is, or tap and slide. Sliding proves to be far more certain and it is very useful overall.
No product is without drawbacks. Fitaly Stamp's is that it defaults to turning the Graffiti system off so you can use taps and sliding on it's new surface. This means, by default, you can no longer use Graffiti. To provide access to Graffiti, Fitaly Stamp offers a quick way to toggle the keyboard on and off with a keyboard icon conveniently placed at the lower left corner. Pressing the keyboard icon suspends Fitaly Stamp and offers normal access to the Graffiti area--aside from the keyboard icon itself. Another tap on the keyboard icon restores the function of the Fitaly Stamp keyboard. Of course, since the Stamp has overlaid the normal Graffiti layout, it can be more difficult to tell where to enter letters and numbers.
One way around this is to use programs such as ScreenWrite and Jot, which allow the use of Graffiti gestures on the application screen. These can be a nice complement to Fitaly Stamp. Interestingly enough, this leads to a reversal of usual conventions, with the Graffiti area being used by Fitaly Stamp and the application screen for handwriting.
The Fitaly Stamp overlay replaces the complete Graffiti area and therefore needs to provide its basic functions in another way. The main function of input is provided by the Fitaly keyboard itself.
The remaining functions are provided with five icons for the application launcher, the calculator, the menu, the find command, and the keyboard toggle. These are moved to a small column on the left side of the Graffiti area. While Textware claims that early experience with Fitaly Stamp has shown this arrangement to be quite effective, in practice I found some problems.
The application launcher area frequently brought up the calculator and when it did bring up the application launcher a second tap would take you to the calculator. Since many application launcher replacements, such as Launch'em and others, normally have this behavior changed to improve navigation within their interface, this is an annoying drawback.
What allows the Stamp to support all 220 characters of the Ansi/ISO Latin1 character set is the use of alternative panels when modifier keys are tapped. In the case of Fitaly Stamp, these alternative panels are shown on the application screen directly above the Fitaly Stamp and taps can be done either on the alternative panel or on the plastic overlay.
After a tap on the umlaut modifier the letter panel and the punctuation panel appear as shown. This display is optional. Some users are likely to want punctuation panels to be displayed but will not bother showing the accented letter panels as the position of accented letters is easy to infer. Each of these symbols can be entered with two taps: the accent modifier followed by the key. The Accent keys are one-time modifiers so that the popup panel disappears immediately after a tap on the key.
This system proves to be far easier to use than Graffiti's system for entering accented letters.
The Thumbtype and SilkyBoard are competing Graffiti overlays and both use a Qwerty keyboard design. The Thumbtype uses small plastic bulges to allow operation with the thumbs or with any finger. Both SilkyBoard and Fitaly Stamp are meant to be used with a pen. Finally, SilkyBoard emphasizes compatibility with Graffiti, while Fitaly Stamp concentrates on speed. Since no one is going to be touch typing on a Palm Graffiti area, there is no particular advantage that I can see to the Qwerty layout.
The three products are aiming at slightly different audiences and the one thing they have in common is that they use the concept of an overlay of the Graffiti area to provide an alternative, and hopefully better, text entry system.
Until taller screens are available for the Palm with a non-dedicated Graffiti area, the solution presented by the Fitaly Stamp is ideal for people who aren't comfortable with Graffiti itself.
Fitaly Stamp for the Palm Organizer is now available and is priced at $35. Each Fitaly Stamp package includes four polyester FitalyStamp overlays, a manual, and an installation diskette. A special upgrade price of US$12 applies until June 30, 2000 for Fitaly (software) users registered before the end of March 2000. (Electronic orders only.) After that the upgrade price of FitalyStamp for Fitaly users will be US$25. For more information visit Textware Solutions on the Internet at www.fitaly.com or call them at 1-800-355-5251.