A really tiny keyboard

This entry originally appeared on my disability blog, I hate stairs.

Greetings stair-haters. I’m writing this entry using a new typing technique that I have discovered. Before I let the cat out of the bag, let me share some good news. I have finally joined the bandwagon of folks who have a special place in their hearts for their cell phones. I am an iPhone user. For nearly the last two years, I’ve not even carried a cell phone with me. I owned one, but I didn’t have a reason to carry it. I could hardly press the buttons. I hardly ever made phone calls. And I didn’t even have text messaging in my plan, much less Internet access. And although it was a decent phone, perhaps even fairly advanced, at the time that I bought it, there wasn’t much you could do with the phone besides standard phone stuff. The nail in the coffin for my cell phone usage was when I discovered Skype. Since I spent a lot of time near a computer, I could use Skype for phone calls. With a small investment of $90 a year (yes, $90 per year), I had a better and cheaper plan than my wireless plan. Not to mention the ability to video chat, IM, and share files with other Skype users for free. It was the perfect setup!

Times change. Ever since the unveiling of the iPhone several years ago, I knew that one day, I was going to have one. I was already a Mac user and an iPod user; becoming an iPhone user was the next logical step. But much time would pass before I would finally justify the cost of owning an iPhone. At first, I considered it to be more of a luxury than anything else. But as time passed, I began struggling more and more with using my computer. The number one reason? Typing. I finally lost the ability to type. It’s almost as if it happened overnight. I then went on a search to find a way to type without a keyboard. After trying various methods, I settled on KeyStrokes, an onscreen keyboard for Mac, to do 99% of my typing, occasionally using voice recognition software for long form writing. It proved to work well and it still does.

In Fall 2008, my brother got an iPod touch as part of a back to school deal when he purchased a MacBook at Ridgeland’s then 1-year-old Apple Retail Store. I began to become more familiar with various apps that were available. Fast forward to Summer 2009. One of my long time attendants purchased an iPhone. That’s when I really started getting interested. By this time, there were tons of apps on the App Store with tons coming out all the time. The “there’s an app for that” campaign was in full swing. My mind began coming up with all sorts of ideas about how iPhones could be helpful to people with disabilities, especially people with severe mobility impairments like mine. One iPhone fearure that really appealed to me, however, was built in. It was as if Apple engineers had peered into my mind and figured out what I needed before I even knew what I needed. Because the iPhone has one quite literally tiny feature that is perfect for someone with almost no strength and no mobility: an ultra-small keyboard with zero-force, touch-sensitive keys. Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?

Of course, the catch is that the keyboard is on a phone, not my Mac. Well, remember all those apps I was talking about? There is one that lets me use the awesome iPhone keyboard to input text on my computer. But it does so much more.

Meet HippoRemote Pro: The Web Surfing, Tweeting, Universal App Remote. Here is how the HippoRemote Web site describes the app:

HippoRemote Pro turns your iPhone and iPod touch into a wireless keyboard, multi-touch mouse and remote control for all your favorite apps. It works over Wi-Fi, giving you complete control of your media center Mac/PC from anywhere in your home or office.

Not only does it let me type with the iPhone’s keyboard, it also functions as a trackpad and has specialized control interfaces for controlling applications on your computer like iTunes and Firefox.

It’s worth mentioning that typing solutions designed especially for people with disabilities can easily cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. You might be saying “Yeah but your iPhone was $199 plus your ongoing wireless plan.” True. But, by way of comparison, the KeyStrokes onscreen keyboard cost $299. And my phone is also an iPod, a Web browser, and a mini, mobile computer. Many times, a consumer product can be used creatively to achieve better results than a product specifically designed for a disabled consumer.

I have had my iPhone for exactly two weeks. I just purchased HippoRemote Pro today and this blog post was the experiment for trying it out. It has worked well. Definitely worth the five bucks I paid for it. It has been an exciting two weeks and I can’t wait to see what other apps can be used for assistive technology purposes. Who knows what exciting discoveries are in store? At least I can say this:

Want to use your iPhone to type on your computer? Yeah, there’s an app for that.