Today I was sent a review copy of the iPhone application called Finger, developed the Hong Kong company duo Headnix and BeansBox. From the name you will guessed that this application involves your finger, you will be correct. Finger is an ingenious application that takes advantage of the iPhone's input methods allowing the user to enter text anywhere on the computer that accepts text input.
There are two components to Finger, an iPhone paid application (@ USD7.99) and a free Desktop background application; for computers running either OS X or Windows (Windows XP or Windows Vista). Since I'm a Mac guy I did not test the Windows Desktop application. The Mac version is a native application so I presume the Windows version is also a native application.
[Update: March 30, 2009] Headnix today announced a Lite version of Finger for Free. The only difference between the Lite and regular versions is the Lite version's limit of only allowing input of 5 characters per start. This latest decision of Headnix is definitely a welcome move. It will allow more users to discover the usefulness of Finger before they commit to the USD7.99 price of the regular version. Now that there is a Lite version, I strongly recommend everyone who has a need for entering Japanese or Chinese characters to download Finger Lite on iTunes App Store to see for themselves what this little application can do.
The set up on the iPhone is quite simple. Right after you start the application for the first time or when you do not have any computer paired. It will presents you with a screen with three options:
- Add Connection
- Report Your Problem
I will start from the bottom.
Clicking on "Report Your Problem" will start the iPhone's Mobile Safari and brings you to Headnix's ZenDesk web interface. Allowing you to submit an issue ticket with Headnix.
The "About" option is self explanatory, it displays the company credits for the application.
Lastly, the "Add Connection" button will presents you with a four digits code to enter into the Finger Desktop application, installed on your Mac or Windows computer. It reminds you to enable the WiFi on your iPhone, but it fails to remind you that the iPhone must be connected to the same network as your computer.
Fortunately after you start the Desktop application for the first time or if you do not have an iPhone paired, it will remind you that the computer must be on the same network as your iPhone. One strange thing is that it also instructs you to turn on the WiFi connection on your Mac, which I found to be unnecessary. The pairing will work as long as your Mac and iPhone are connected on the same network (on the same IP subnet).
Entering the code from the Finger iPhone application was very Mac like. There are four large digits displayed on the iPhone screen and there are four corresponding, large fields in the window on the Mac. Another small but Mac like thing with the UI, was not requiring the user to hit tab or enter when entering the four digits code. As soon as the last digit of the code is entered the programs automatically begins the pairing process.
It then presents you with a new screen to tell you about the Finger Desktop (background) application. It also presents you with a large field to test the character input from the Finger iPhone application. This field can use much larger text since quantity is not as important as visibility.
For most of you, non-Chinese readers, will ask, is this a gimmicky application? Isn't there a keyboard that comes with every computer (except may be the Mac Mini)? Why would I want to use the iPhone as my text input device? Those are all very good questions.
You are correct about the keyboard, but the some of the built-in OS X keyboard input methods for the international languages (ie. Chinese, Japanese, etc.) requires a learning curve. Especially when the keyboard you're using is not native to the language of the input method. What the iPhone has, at least for Chinese (Traditional and Simplified), is a handwritten input method. Such input method is only available to the Mac through tablet input device, costing way more than USD7.99 that Headnix is charging for Finger at the iTunes App Store. This is a similar case on the Windows side. So Finger is not only an inexpensive solution, it is also very convenient, as the iPhone is something you bring everywhere.
Overall Finger is an elegant and useful application, at least for the Chinese community. Please don't get me wrong, Finger will support any input methods that are enabled on the iPhone, even emoji if the application on the Mac supports it. I must say Headnix got itself another winner here. Although the price of the application is relatively inexpensive when you compare to the solutions available to the Mac and Windows computers. I think USD7.99 may be a bit hard to swallow for most iPhone owners.
These dynamic duo of Headnix and Beansbox have created consistent, quality applications and web sites respectively, so the quality of the execution found in this latest iPhone application is no surprise. I first encountered Headnix when I was introduced to its free OS X screen capture software Clip It! Beansbox on the other hand is a web development company based in Hong Kong who had a hand in some of the latest Web2.0 stars, including ZenDesk.