The TechCrunch 50 is ongoing on the west coast and I’ve been watching to see anything that looks exciting and new that is launching out there. I started seeing excited coverage about a "new" text entry method for mobile devices called Swype. Swype is a gesture-based entry system where you spell words by dragging your finger or stylus over a keyboard. The system then knows what word you spelled when you lift your finger. A lot of people were talking about Swype today and I saw Robert Scoble going crazy about it over Twitter.
The whole time I was seeing this talk fly around the web I realized that I have seen this technology before. I felt I must be wrong as Swype is new and developed by the inventor of the T9 phone entry method. The more I read descriptions about Swype the more convinced I was that I had seen this technique before and when I watched a video of the Swype presentation at TC50 I knew I was right.
Swype looks just like the text entry method developed by the IBM Research Center that was originally called SHARK. I reviewed SHARK back in 2004 and was very impressed with it at the time. It works mechanically just like Swype appears to work but SHARK predicts words based on the shape of the overall spelling gesture.
SHARK was renamed to ShapeWriter in 2005 and is still around today. Look at the image above that shows how words are spelled in SHARK. Take a look at ShapeWriter in action below and then look at that Swype video again. This is nothing new, people. Maybe TechCrunch should have researched Swype more diligently before letting them in TC50?
UPDATE: ShapeWriter is also being developed for the Google Android project and was one of the top 50 applications recognized for that work months ago. Here’s a video of that project: