Mistakes You Didn't Make

Conor Friedersdorf

Farhad Manjoo:

Autocorrect gets no respect. Every day, you dash off dozens of messages on your mobile phone, and most of the time, you do it wrong--you mistype, misspell, or make some other kind of error that's bound to cause you great embarrassment. In the vast majority of cases, your phone steps in to save the day. Thanks to the genius of autocorrect, you can appear fully literate even when you type "im ar thw store," "thats so fibby," or "yes ill matty you."

But no one ever thanks autocorrect. Instead you focus on the few instances in which your phone, overwhelmed by your errors, makes a mistake of its own. True, some of these are spectacular: The iPhone turns "heard about garys internship at the whitehouse?" to "Heard about farts internship at the whorehouse?" On the Motorola Droid, you might aim for "mmm, I donno about that restaurant" but get, "Mommy, I donno" instead. The Web abounds with such gaffes; David Pogue's readers recently compiled a hilariously comprehensive list. Most errors, though, are relatively prosaic--the most common one I experience on the iPhone is its insistence that hell should be he'll. (That explains my recent preference for the schoolmarmish exclamation "What the heck?")

Perhaps due to the thanklessness of the job, nearly all the mobile phone companies I contacted about autocorrect were reluctant to discuss the software. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Research in Motion, and HTC all either did not respond or declined requests for interviews. Surreptitiousness seems to be the operating philosophy here: "You do your best not to be noticed," says Scott Taylor, the vice president of mobile solutions at Nuance, the one software company that was happy to talk about how your phone turns hapless tapping into something resembling readable English.
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