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I have a remarkably old PDA for someone who loves his PDA as much as I do. I'm always using it to write things - sometimes LJ posts like this one, sometimes scripts to stories or games I'm designing, and particularly often these days, sometimes code to be added into my programs.

Part of the reason I've not upgraded recently is because I don't like the modern trend for fingertouch on PDAphones. I like my styluses, thank you very much. I can see that fingertouch is more mass-market-accessible, but I can't see why technical types have all given up on the precision and speed that a stylus offers, to move to fat-fingered typing on oversized touch-screen buttons with no tactile feedback.

However, it's not actually specifically the lack of stylus control that bothers me most about upgrading, but the lack of a good text entry method. In particular, I can't see myself getting a new PDA if it doesn't let me write programs easily. Most fingertouch keyboards that I've seen barely manage to have apostrophe and comma on screen, and are certainly not designed to let you access programmers' characters. Typing a string such as <%= %> or {|| } on a fingertouch keyboard seems like an exercise in bloody-minded frustration. The on-screen fingertouch keyboards are okay for messages of 140 characters, but what about those of us who want to write thousands of words of prose script, or a hundred lines of Javascript?

My current text entry method is the fantastic Fitaly keyboard. Its layout is optimised for English text so that people can easily get 30wpm, often much higher; and it allows me to customise it so that I can write things like <%= %> or {|| } in a single click-and-drag. Other single-drag macros I've set up include each do ||, <lj-cut text="">, http://toothycat.net/~hologram/, and so on. It makes writing code even in a PDA's Notepad-style basic text editor as pleasant as doing it in a customised IDE. It's better than an IDE for any one language, in fact, because the language I write in varies: recently it's been Ruby on Rails and Javascript, but next month it might be Python or something completely different.

However, the device is getting somewhat long in the tooth these days, and it's gradually going wrong... At the moment it's not connecting to a PC via ActiveSync like it used to, and the only way for me to transfer content on or off it is via a WiFi or GPRS connection. So I would like to get a new PDAphone of some kind.

My question to you all is: What modern PDAs are suitable for a programmer? I'm not expecting an interface as customisable as Fitaly, though that'd be utterly awesome if one existed. But are there any ways of using a modern PDA to write code without having to painfully dig through punctuation menus for every brace and ampersand? I don't mind what OS we're talking about – AppleOS, Android, Windows Mobile, any others – I'm indifferent to all of them. I won't even insist on stylus control. I just want an interface that lets me quickly write text and code while standing at a bus stop or sitting down for a 10 minute coffee break.

Posted via m.livejournal.com.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 9th, 2011 09:00 pm (UTC)
Mmm, thanks for the thought. A 7 inch tablet would be quite nice... probably pushing at the limits of what would fit in even my capacious pockets, but it sounds like a decent price / functionality tradeoff point.

A Windows tablet would be cool, because the aforementioned Fitaly keyboard/macro language exists for desktop Windows too. I also had the impression that Windows tablets were a bit too bulky, though. I should have a Google around to see what I can find, though.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )