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Former Apple designer explains why autocorrect on the iPhone is better than it seems

Published Nov 7th, 2018 5:02PM EST
iPhone Keyboard

While the iPhone was in development in the mid-2000s, Apple engineers spent a tremendous amount of time and energy working on the device’s virtual keyboard. And with good reason: Apple was understandably trying to avoid the public relations gaffe that made the company’s Newton PDA a laughing stock in the early ’90s. The Newton’s flagship feature was handwriting recognition, but the feature didn’t work quite as well as advertised. Famously, the Newton was lampooned in a widely circulated “Doonesbury” comic strip and even on an episode of The Simpsons.

Steve Jobs appreciated that the iOS keyboard had to work exceedingly well for the iPhone to succeed, and thankfully, the iOS keyboard that shipped with the original iPhone was more than serviceable. That said, it’s not as if the iOS keyboard is perfect. Indeed, there are still many times when the keyboard’s autocorrect feature can be more of an exercise in frustration than useful. In an effort to figure out why autocorrect can sometimes be so off-base, Business Insider recently sat down with former Apple engineer Ken Kocienda, who helped develop the keyboard millions of iPhone and iPad users still use today.

One of the more interesting excerpts from the interview centers on how iOS handles swear words. As anyone who has tried to send a swear word can attest, having iOS try to send a message on your behalf exclaiming that a new movie was “ducking awesome” is beyond frustrating. After all, shouldn’t iOS be aware of the fact that “ducking” isn’t an appropriate word choice?

Well as it turns out, Apple is simply taking an overly cautious approach as to prevent users from inadvertently sending a message with a swear word in it.

Kocienda also brings up the role that psychology plays with autocorrect, namely that users tend to focus on the instances where the feature doesn’t work as opposed to the times where it works flawlessly.

“If it does what it’s supposed to do 19 times and then that 20th time it makes a mistake that is either distracting or embarrassing,” Kocienda explains, “that one mistake wipes out the positive feelings that people have for the 19 times where it just worked.”

For those a bit more interested in how the iPhone keyboard design came to be, the following video is worth watching:

Yoni Heisler Contributor

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.