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Mobile, Part 2


... part 1 is here.

This is post no. 74 for Kev Quirk's #100DaysToOffload challenge. The point is to write many things, not to write good ones. Please adjust quality expectations accordingly :)

The experiment

So... for the previous article, I didn't have a computer around & I really needed to come up with an article to keep up with #100DaysToOffload; thus, I just used my phone and an instance of Emacs running remotely. The resulting article ended up being short, boring, and... not the greatest of all time; it was, however, an interesting experience that I thought it's worth writing (and speculating) about (... using an actual keyboard this time).

Things that went well

Typing things into the command line from a phone keyboard is generally not a lot of fun. Compared to it, it's actually an improvement to use a GUI to navigate around (which I sometimes do with a Windows desktop PC). Overall though, one would expect that a text editor that praises itself on never having to use a mouse would be the absolute worst thing to deal with on a smartphone.

Actually, it's not that bad!

In fact, I'd argue that editing text in Emacs on a phone is more fun than editing text in anything else on a phone. (Which is, admittedly, a fairly low bar. But still.)

My remote desktop client did have Ctrl, Alt etc. buttons. Once those are there... although it does require some mental gymnastics to reverse-engineer your muscle memory so that you know which keys to press, "delete word backwards" is still faster by pressing Ctrl-W on a phone keyboard than deleting it character by character, or even by selecting it and deleting it that way. Meanwhile, autocorrect / autocomplete still works: the remote app process will probably get a bunch of "backspace" keys & the right word if you select another one.

What didn't

Obviously, everything is a lot slower. Especially typing.

One possible workaround though (which I didn't realize at the time): voice recognition is getting a lot better these days, and some phones come with reasonable offline versions, too.

Furthermore, remote desktop clients are rarely designed for "primarily typing". For example, on mine (the official Microsoft RDP one), Ctrl and Alt were toggles, assuming that even if you're cool enough to even try using them on a phone, you will surely not have the capacity for holding one down while typing something else. (This is Emacs users we're talking about here though...)

Yet another downside was the keyboard obscuring about half of the Emacs window when open. Even with it being openable / closeable really quickly, this still slows down the process by a lot.

What next?

If anyone still remembers my Emacs OS Mobile article... one of the basic ideas was to replace hotkeys with neat, adaptive buttons that can do the same thing while being clickable, since hotkeys are really not that great to use on a phone.

Well... as it turns out, with a reasonable on-screen keyboard, "Ctrl-X Ctrl-S" is about as nice as locating "save" in a hamburger menu. If you're an Emacs user, that is.

Which leads us to the point of... maybe power-user smartphone UIs can look radically different from traditional ones?

Imagine, for example, an on-screen keyboard translucently overlaid over an Emacs window on-screen, covering the entire screen, and including Ctrl, Alt etc. buttons, along with keys that are larger than on standard on-screen keyboards. Downside: you don't have a lot of room to click on things. But... what if you don't want to click on things a lot? What if your primary way of interaction is single-key commands? And what if you can actually remember most of these?

... comments welcome, either in email or on the (eventual) Mastodon post on Fosstodon.