Are you old enough to remember the DOS operating system? Users had to enter commands in text form. It seems so primitive now. But I predict a return to text interfaces, this time on your smartphone.

I love my smartphone but I find it annoying to hunt for the right app icon to do a simple task such as send a message or make a note to myself. I want a Smartphone with a Preloader interface, a term I just invented. It's a blank box and keyboard for data entry that is always your first screen. Instead of first specifying which application you want to use, such as messaging, email, phone, etc., you simply use a simple text code and start working. For example, if you want to send an email to Bob, you type into the empty box:
e bob about borrowed lawnmower

Hi Bob,

Please return my lawnmower. Have a nice day.

Your smartphone would recognize "e bob" to be a shortcut for "email the guy named Bob in my address book." The subject line would be whatever followed "about" on the same line.

When you're done typing your message, click "submit" and it brings up your email app populated with your message and Bob's email address, or options for selecting which Bob you want. If everything looks good, you press Send.

The main idea here is that you should be able to start doing your work before you choose the app. The content of the message will tell your smartphone which app you intend.

Some one-letter text commands for the preloader might include:

E = email

T= text

N = note

C = calendar

W = weather

P = phone

V = voicemail

If you want to enter an appointment in your calendar, just type "c staff meeting 9am Tuesday Aug 26 alert 1 hour". Your calendar app will pop up and you can confirm it entered the appointment correctly.

Do you want the hourly weather forecast for Baltimore? Just type "w Baltimore hour" into your preloader. It's much faster than opening the app first, looking for the box to enter the city then clicking the hourly option.

The way my brain is wired I always want to jump right into a task before I hunt for an app. I often accidently choose my text messaging icon instead of email, cancel the texting app, open email, choose the addressee box, type addressee, choose subject, and so on. The process feels inefficient and it bugs me every time. I want to start working immediately, while a thought is fresh in my mind. Only after I have done my work do I want the phone to deduce which app I intended.

Voice recognition apps already do this sort of thing. But 80% of the time that I use my phone I'm someplace where speaking aloud would be awkward or unwise. I want a text interface to speed things up.

Does that already exist?

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+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 16, 2012
Scott, Scott, Scott. You fail to understand the first law of Internet user interfaces, which is that all user interfaces become simpler and less-useful over time.

In the 1980s, we had Usenet, where all information on the internet was organized in a carefully-curated hierarchy, all conversations were threaded, your reader kept track of what you had read and what you hadn't and showed you only what you had read, and let you filter it using search terms. You could continue any conversation at any time; no "this thread is locked because no one could possibly care about a three-month-old topic".

Then we had the web, and Usenet was splintered into tens of thousands of forums, otherwise much the same.

Then blogs replaced bulletin boards, much like this one, which are similar to forums except in allowing only one person to post, and in not keeping track of what comment was in response to what other comment, and in not filtering out comments you've already read.

Then we had Facebook. Then Twitter. I thought it was physically impossible to invent a user interface more stupid and antagonistic towards the exchange of though than Twitter, when Tumblr was invented, which doesn't even provide a way to respond to the person who made the original comment.

The algorithm to succeed on the Internet is not to try to improve on user interfaces, but to try to figure out how to make them stupider.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 15, 2012
If I had a smartphone, I'd be all over getting that app!
Aug 15, 2012
If you use chrome you can use gleebox to get a command line for you browser

:fbshare Share the current page on Facebook
:wp cricket Search Wikipedia for cricket
:tube elvis Search YouTube for elvis
:site2pdf Get a PDF for the current page
:tw gleeboxSearch Twitter for gleebox

plus loads more, just need them to come up with a phone app
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 15, 2012
"Voice recognition apps already do this sort of thing. But 80% of the time that I use my phone I'm someplace where speaking aloud would be awkward or unwise."

I can see how this will get done in the next generation smart phone: You type in what you want to say, it gets quietly speech-synthesized and the voice recognition app does the rest...
Aug 15, 2012
C:/>cd dilbert
C:/DILBERT/>dir *.*
06/13/2012 07:29 PM 127 BLOG_COM.TXT
C:/DILBERT/>type blog_com.txt
I could still run DOS in my sleep. There are times that I sincerely miss my command line. Especially when I was running Vista.
C:/DILBERT/>cd ..
C:>format c:
Are you sure?
Are you really sure?
Formatting in progress...
Aug 15, 2012
Re: your predictive powers, Palm WebOS had a good shortcut implementation like this, and I believe the market has spoken.You did kind of need that physical keyboard, too.

For a modern OS I can confirm that Google Now in the latest android provides a version of this function, but practically it is more like the search tool in Windows 7.

What I think will fill Scott's desire is actually "gesture search", also android (author Google). It will let you assign gestures to apps, so they open and you just start typing.

Oh, if you have trouble typing on Android try the Swype beta, or try a couple of the foldable Bluetooth. I am nearly as quick on Swype as on a regular keyboard, because I am a touch typist; swiftkey is probably better if you are not. (Though for some reason it is crazy slow on this blog, maybe that's just JavaScript?) There are keyboard shortcuts in many android apps, so if you go the Bluetooth or physical keyboard route they might also help boost your productivity.
Aug 14, 2012
Am I old enough to remember DOS, you ask? HA! (Oh, Lordee, I'm really going to date myself now!)

This is sort of the equivalent of the old codger sitting in his rocking chair, whittling on a peg, talking about how it was when he was a kid (we didn't even have wheels, let alone a car!)

OK, here goes.

The first computer I ever used was an IBM 1240 at UC Irvine. It ran an operating system from the Rand Corporation called "JOSS," which was an acronym for "Joint Open Shop System." Open Shop was what we called a computer that allowed the user to "talk" directly to the computer through a teletype keyboard. I was fascinated by being able to talk to a machine!

The second computer I used was an IBM 1400. This computer was a batch computer that used punch cards (more properly called Hollerith cards - look it up to get the reference). This computer had 14K (yes, you read that right - 14,336 bits) of core memory. It was called "core" because that is what it was. 1K of memory consisted of 1,024 little ferromagnetic donuts mounted in a frame that was about 18" x 10". I don't know how much the computer cost, but I'll bet it was over $200K in 1960-era dollars. Imagine how far we've come.

I used to tell that story to let people know how long I'd been in the industry, until it got to the point where nobody knew what I was talking about. So I switched to showing them my first PDA - an original Pilot, before it became the Palm Pilot. That worked for another few years, until everyone forgot what those things were, too. Sigh.

Anyway, to Scott's point: I recall when GUI's first started to make it into mainstream business processing. They looked cool, and demonstrated really well. The problem with them was just what Scott is bringing up here. If you're a new user, they're great, because they allow you to point and click on icons that direct your workflow. But when you get to be a proficient user, they negatively impact your productivity.

We found out that a power user, especially one doing mostly data entry, didn't want all the bells and whistles. What he/she wanted was a way to enter a lot of data quickly - and the best way to do that was to type it in with either auto-tab (for fixed field lengths) or auto return, or both. That was called heads-down data entry, where you could enter, say, long strings of data, such as recurring purchase orders, with a minimum of wasted keystrokes.

So look at today's smart phones. You can do cool things with the icon-based apps, but when it comes to doing what Scott would like to do, it becomes tedious. I can type (on a computer keyboard) between 50 and 60 words per minute. On my smart phone, I can text about four or five words per minute.

Shortcuts would be great - but at the same time, you would have to go back to that crappy phone keyboard to use them, wasting a few clicks just to get to it, and then having to back up when you screw up the text string.

There's also the ambiguity problem. In Scott's example, he says he wants to send Bob an email by typing in "e Bob." What happens when there's more than one Bob in his address book? Or worse, he mistypes and doesn't catch it, so he sends an email to Rob instead of Bob; but this email says something like "That Rob is sure a jerk! Let's put a whoopee cushion on his chair!" Not good.

The problem with this approach is that you need to either train your system to do this, and then try to remember all the shortcuts you set up ("Now, did I make ft to be find text, or does that mean find free time on my calendar? Darn!") or learn the shortcuts that come with the phone. Painful either way. I mean, once you learn them, they become often used, and that means they become a legacy that needs to be passed on from version to version. In a way, I'll bet Microsoft wishes they had never had a "Ctrl" key on the keyboard. I still use Ctrl-A, Ctrl-C, and Ctrl-V a lot. Do any of you?

So with the current technology, I don't see a phone as lending itself to user productivity. If you really need to do something like that, a computer with a full keyboard is still the way to go.
Aug 14, 2012
Can we call it TSIRI for Textual SIRI?
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 14, 2012
Scott, with all of your tech-improvement notions, how about using some of your abundant resource and contacts and make one happen? This *shortcut app* idea seems attainable. Go on, it looks like a safe and fun experiment. Do it for the fans and stoke some cred.

On a different note, kudos to an engineering type who understands that speaking loudly on ones tech device is sometimes *awkward and unwise*. A rarity…..
Aug 14, 2012
Reminds me of my last pre-smartphone cell phone, the Nokia N95. If I pressed the green button, it opened my call log, and with the menu buttons I can select my most commonly called people in about two more clicks. (Usually my wife by clicking the green button once to get to the call log, and then again by clicking the green button a second time).

The camera app is launched when I open the integrated lens cap. It has a slide-out number pad, and it slides the other way to reveal music controls. If I slide out the music controls, it goes to my music playing application. There's also a press-and-hold button that launches text, web, and some other apps. Almost everything I routinely want is accessible with a single button press.

My iPhone was a lot better in most ways, but it wasn't any faster to get features I wanted. Also, the Nokia N95 could hold a charge for like 7 days, and had a user-replaceable battery. And a MicroSD expansion slot gave it a storage edge.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 14, 2012
Back in the sixties, FORTH was intended for this. (And for controlling radio telescopes.)
Aug 14, 2012
Given your audience, half of them must be unix experts. It's a good idea you suggested but two nerdy beardy guys beat you to it by ummm about half a century. World is slowly catching up to their geniuses.
By the way nice example of aliases.

+17 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 14, 2012
It would take one application where the commands could be user defined with API mappings that launch other applications as defined.

"One app to rule them all, one app to find them.
One app to bring them all and in the device bind them."
Aug 14, 2012
awesome idea..game changer. It will be very useful if we had a phone with a good keyboard. Imagine the same thing on a touchscreen keypad...it will make life more difficult...
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 13, 2012
Good prediction/postdiction. Apple kind of headed in that direction with the Spotlight Search (http://www.idownloadblog.com/2011/01/12/using-spotlight-search-on-the-iphone/). You still can't start your work before choosing an app, but it makes choosing an app a lot quicker.

I use it most often for finding a contact.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 13, 2012
Google's answer to Siri, "Google Now", allows you to use text input as well as voice:

Aug 13, 2012
The real invention needed here is a lawn mower that knows when to go home. It should feel a bit "nervous" when it hasn't mowed your lawn in a couple of weeks. When it does, it should try to escape Bob's garage.

Your mower could easily hack the combination to Bob's garage door, then at night, scrape by Bob's car at a quiet idle speed. Or if that doesn't work, it could wait for a stormy night a la Shawshank Redemption. So let's say it's 2:30 am, the thunder is booming and the rain is pouring, and your mower is making its way back to you via bike paths and deserted commercial areas. It might have to hide in a woods if it can't get back in one night.

Worst case, say it was captured and sold at a white-trash garage sale and transported to the east coast. Then it might need some help getting back to you. It would be smart to team up with another lawn mower and a lovable weedwhacker (with a Scottish accent?) Three working together would have a better chance getting across the country. The weedwhacker could shoot its poly-line down to save your mower from getting dunked in a river. And the other mower ("McGymower"?) could figure out an ingenious way out of a metal recycling plant.

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 13, 2012
It's not command line, but it does have shortcuts to do specific actions in different apps on the iphone: http://appcubby.com/launch-center/
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 13, 2012
Hi Scott - what you're describing is very similar to the "Head Up Display" interface in recent versions of the Ubuntu Linux operating system. It works both in individual apps and across the whole OS, recognising shortcuts just like in your idea. See here for a demonstration of an early version:


I'm not aware of anything like this on Android but I imagine it's only a matter of time as it does make life easier.
Aug 13, 2012
How about S = Surprise Me.
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