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How to Use Android's Gesture Search and Leave Your Phone's Keyboard Behind

Android Gestures

Typing is sooo yesterday. Google Gesture Search, a freshman out of Google Labs, lets you find stuff on your Android phone by drawing letters on the touchscreen as if you were jotting on a notepad. In addition to Android's existing search by voice, image, and barcode, Gesture Search is yet another keyboardless input method for your touchscreen phone. At the very least, Gesture Search is a fun proof-of-concept; at most, it will hook a few dedicated touch keyboard haters. Here's how it works.

With Gesture Search running, you write letters by swiping your fingertip on your touchscreen as if it were a whiteboard. With each character you input, Gesture Search live-searches your phone's contacts, bookmarks, and music and displays the results on-screen. Tap an app, contact, bookmark, or song to launch it or view the contact. (For contacts, tap the green phone icon to start a call.)

When you start Gesture Search you get a plain black screen with a cursor-like pointer on the footer. You draw your first letter, and Gestures puts it at the bottom of the screen and displays matches in your phone's application list, contacts, bookmarks, and if enabled, your music library. Then you draw the next letter to narrow your results further, as shown above.

As you can see, a letter that can pass as either an H or an A will match both. You can't be a slowpoke while you swipe, either: Gesture Search can recognize letters that involve more than one stroke—like a T—if they're timed correctly. That is, don't wait too long to cross your T, or Gesture Search will think it's an I. (Hint: If you're consistently not fast enough, in the app's settings set "Writing Speed" to "Slow.")

If you want to delete a letter, you can: to backspace, in the footer, just draw a line from right to left as if you were pushing the delete key back. Then you can re-enter the character.

Gesture Search reminds me of Dan Bricklin's iPhone app, Note Taker, which is based on the same keyboard-avoidance premise. But unlike Note Taker, Gesture Search recognizes characters as you draw them, which makes it a worthy candidate as a universal input option.

It doesn't look like gestures universal input will happen anytime soon, though. Google launched Gesture Search in Labs, a "playground" where their "more adventurous users" can try "wild and crazy" experimental prototypes.

But Gesture Search isn't so crazy. Swipe-to-type keyboard replacements like Swype and ShapeWriter are gaining in popularity because the stock touch keyboard can leave something to be desired, especially for people with big fingers. What's nice about Gesture Search's swipe-to-type approach is that its learning curve isn't as steep as other solutions: you draw letters the way you learned how in first grade.

Gesture Search is available for Android 2.0+ only. Search for it in the Market, or scan the QR Code below with your Android device to install it.

Android Gestures