Rhodri Marsden: Download – and don't feel guilty
Wednesday 23 June 2010
Getting people to part with money in exchange for music is a problem that's now as intractable for the music business as getting The Edge to come up with an imaginative guitar riff, but a new website called fairsharemusic.com is the latest to have a stab at it. While the usual solutions involve giving people more music for less money and hoping their gratitude will translate to more frequent purchases, fairesharemusic.com gives us the same amount of music for the same amount of money we'd pay if we were using iTunes – the crucial difference being that half the profits go straight to charity.
So you can buy the Oasis compilation album but divert some funds to Oxfam; give to the Red Cross by buying Simply Red; or perhaps buy an album by my former bandmate Chris Sievey (aka Frank Sidebottom, who died on Sunday night after a short battle with cancer) and give some cash to the Teenage Cancer Trust in the process. The site probably does more to help charities than the music industry, but at least you can be certain that the charities will spend your cash wisely.
To an ever-growing collection of irritating middle-class technology-related woes, such as "miso soup has spilled on my Blackberry", or "my SD card is completely full of pictures of the ruins of Machu Picchu", we can now add "my newspaper column is awfully hard to type on an iPad".
If I put the thing on a tabletop, I have to stand up and hover over it like a surgeon removing a gall stone. If I sit on the floor with my knees up and with it on my lap, typing is thwarted by the fact that I'm fat, to which you could say, well, go on a diet, fatso, but I've got to finish this column in the next few hours and frankly there's not enough time for that. Ideally, I'd prop up the iPad with one hand and type with the other, but the "peck-pecking" motion would be so laborious that I'd end up hurling the thing into a Laura Ashley feature wall in frustration.
To the rescue, at least potentially, comes Swype, a front-runner in the battle to find the best way to input information to tablet computers and smartphones. While screen-based keyboards by the likes of Google and Apple rely on us repeatedly prodding in the vague proximity of keys, Swype – as its name suggests – lets you sweep a single finger back and forth across the keyboard, lifting it up at the end of each word. A couple of months back, the Guinness world record for texting (and yes, I'm afraid there is such a thing) was broken by a Swype intern when he inputted: "The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human." He did this in 35.54 seconds – which is impressive, presumably, although it's hard to tell without actually seeing it.
Most smartphone keyboards make an intelligent guess at the word we're trying to key in (although the iPhone's insistence on replacing "hell" with "he'll" and "reading" with "Reading" is maddeningly unintelligent) and Swype's no different. As a result it performs particularly well with long words; if the record attempt had been centred around an unlikely phrase such as "Jo and Tim go mad in a big tin box", it's possible that traditional methods may have won the day.
I had a go at Swype on an Android phone yesterday, and I have to say that I found it tricky – but the inventor, Cliff Kushler (who also came up with the T9 text system that's employed on the majority of the world's mobile phones) claims that people can achieve 30 words per minute after an hour's practise.
And, annoyingly, practise is the key. That's why alternative keyboard layouts such as Dvorak never displaced QWERTY, despite being faster to use; we simply can't be bothered to learn a new system. But with Swype appearing pre-installed on new phones such as the new Samsung Galaxy S, and with competing services such as Shapewriter and SlideIt waving their patents about and striking deals, we could be inputting text more rapidly and accurately on all kinds of devices – including the iPad – by the end of the year. Which is good news for me, as I've abandoned technology for the afternoon and am writing this on a piece of lined A4 using a chewed biro.
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