For years now, I’ve been fat-fingering the iPhone keyboard, forced to scroll back with the miniature cursor to change an if to an of or to hunt down a stray apostrophe. It’s among the more irritating of my many First World problems and one that I had reason to hope would be addressed in Apple’s new mobile operating system, with its, as touted, “smartest keyboard ever.” IOS 8, I was promised, “brings the biggest changes to the keyboard since the very first iPhone. Now you can tap to choose the perfect suggestion for your next word.”
Perfect suggestion? Well then, Apple must have solved the predictive texting puzzle because that sounds pretty darned good. The feature is called QuickType, which is a bit of a misnomer since you’re not tapping individual letters but rather selecting one of three words or phrases, all presumably perfect in their own way, from a bar across the top of the keyboard. On its website, Apple assures me very candidly, if creepily, that iOS 8 knows my “text messaging style,” how I email, to whom I’m writing, and even “what the conversation is about.” Hey, if it means no more typos, then I’m fine with that. But here’s what happened—reported in real time—when I gave it a whirl on Wednesday.
It’s a quarter past 1 in the afternoon, which means it’s time for me to gush effusively to my wife, by text of course, over our adorable 13-month-old. But then my phone already knew that. Because when I touch the text field in my Google Voice app, I’m presented with the QuickType recommendations I, The, and I’m. All well-thought-through and very Vuolo-esque ways to begin a sentence, though I’m curious how The will get me to my particular destination, which looks something like: Our little bugaboo is sooo wonderful :). But I trust Apple, which then offered as my second word the choices only, fact, and new.
Aha! I see where this is going. It is indeed just like me to claim as incontrovertible the remarkableness of my child, so fact it is. The fact is, yes!, that, OK, I, sure, don’t, wha? This is where it all fell apart. Before long, abetted by QuickType, I was staring at the sentence: The fact is that I don’t know what you want me to be. So I hit send.
A full 15 minutes passed without a reply, which is an eternity when you’ve just posed to your wife an epistemological quandary wrapped in an identity crisis inside a failure of communication. By text message. Immediately following an exchange in which I asked her when the contractor was coming to install the hardwood floors and she replied, “I think Monday.” QuickType, you got me into this mess, now get me out. And this time I’m not falling for The.
I, there we go, love, now we’re talkin’!, you, yup, so much.
I know what you’re thinking, only you weren’t there to stop me. Not to worry—I’ll just tell her that I hit my head or that I’m drunk. Either of which is arguably preferable to the truth that I’m journalistically experimenting on my wife. And failing. Which reminds me of another QuickType claim. It “adjusts based on the person you’re communicating with, because your choice of words is likely more laid back with your spouse than with your boss.” In other words, there is no way that iOS 8 would suggest that I QuickType, word after “perfect” word, The fact is that I don’t know what you want me to be to Andy Bowers, executive producer of Slate podcasts and my immediate superior, a relationship of which Apple assures me it is aware. But it did and so I did. Hit send, that is. He replied within seconds:
I explained, apparently inarticulately. Andy Bowers:
Is this a Turing test? Are you actually a bot?
Oh, would that I were. By the way, my wife finally did text back, about an hour later:
I love you too, very much.
To which I QuickTyped:
I’m so excited about the future
At last! I couldn’t have said it better myself.