How to Send Text Messages

Posted on June 16th, 2007 in Phones by jed

7_messagesThis weekend I taught my mother how to use the text messaging on her phone. She’s pretty smart, but like many people that haven’t grown up inundated with ever-changing gadgetry, she just doesn’t have the necessary background to “figure out” all this new fangled technology. She knows perfectly well how to type words into the phone, she does it all the time with her address book. For example, if she wants to create a new address book entry and label it “Richard”, she goes to her address book and types

777 444 222 44 2 777 3

(the spaces are there for your readability, she doesn’t actually type them). This spells out R-I-C-H-A-R-D on the screen of the phone.

But when typing a text message, it doesn’t work like this. If she tried to type the same word, “Richard”, she would enter:

777 444 222 44 (beep) 2 (beep) 77 (beep) (beep) 7 (beep) 3 (beep)

and the screen showed Sprighabag?. What? Sprighabag?? What the heck is Sprighabag?? Stupid technology. (Actually, after the first beep, she probably got a little worried and may not have even continued typing. If she did, she certainly didn’t get past the two consecutive beeps, and likely put the phone down convinced that it was out to get her.)

The problem is the phone is trying to be helpful, and it ends up outsmarting itself (or her, I’m still not sure which). When texting, it goes into a special mode that uses “predictive text technology”, where it tries to make things simpler by lessening the number of key presses necessary to spell a word (sounds fancy, huh?). Instead of behaving the way that it used to, it now expects only one key-press per letter, and it guesses the word intended based on the fact that there are only a certain number of possibilities for each sequence.

Lets look a very simple example, the word “hi”:

The “old” way:

44 (wait till cursor starts blinking again) 444

The “new” way, with predictive text technology:


That’s it. Since the number 4 only has three possible letters: G, H, and I; there aren’t a lot of possible combinations that are actually words. Here are all the possibilities: GG, GH, GI, HG, HG, HI, IG, IH, and II. The phone has been programmed to know that none of those other choices make sense, so it assumes you want the word “HI”. Easy, huh?

Let’s play around with it a little more, this time with a more complicated message. Get your phone and type this into a new text message (on my mother’s phone, a Nokia 6061, you get to the new text message screen by pressing up on the four way navigation button–your phone might be different). Seriously, go do this.

(Don’t type the spaces, they are just there for readability here):

8447 0 47 0 2 0 8378 1

What did that spell? Neat, huh? Go ahead, take a minute to type some other stuff. Notice that pressing 1 gives you a period? I’ll talk more about that a little later. Fun now that you understand how it works, isn’t it?

Now let’s look at a slightly more complicated example. What if you want to type the word chef? Type the numbers 2433, which would spell chef, but also spells other valid words, like aged and aide. The phone first gives you Aged, but you can press * to have it display another possibility. In this case you need to press * twice before it realized that you want the word chef.

2433 * *
gives you:
Aged -> Aide -> Chef

Remember how earlier we learned that the 1 key will enter a period? Well, you can use it in conjunction with the * key to get other punctuation as well. Pressing it will cycle you through the -, ?, and more.

Now what if you want a word or abbreviation (or name) that it simply doesn’t recognize? For example, you boss sends you a text with the question “When can I expect to receive those TPS reports? Don’t forget to use the new cover sheet!”

You want to respond with “I’ll have them for you eod” (Eod is an abbreviation for “End of Day”).

So you type:

455 0 4283 0 8436 0 367 0 968 0 363

But 363 gives you end, which you don’t want, cause you just want the abbreviation “eod”, not to type the whole thing. So you press * to cycle through the possibilities.

363 * * * * * * * *
which cycles through the possibilities:
end -> foe -> doe -> ene -> eme -> enf -> dod -> fod -> end

Uh-oh, no eod. Now what? Well, on most phones at this point there is an option on the screen for “Spell” (in my mother’s case it is activated by pressing the middle key in the navigation pad, but your phone might be different). So you press “Spell”, and it brings you to a single text box that behaves the “old” way: you press each number several times to specify a particular letter. So now you can type

33 666 3

and then hit “Save”. Viola! eod

What if you just want to go back to the old way for all of your text messages? Or what if you want to type a word in all CAPS? Can you do that? Yes. By pressing the pound key (#, aka hash mark, aka number sign, aka cross hatch, aka octothorpe, aka comment symbol, etc) you can change the typing mode.

There are several possibilities, which you can scroll through by pressing the pound key repeatedly, and identify by looking for the little [image] symbol on your phone (it may be at the top or bottom of the screen, depends on the phone):

Fast_PencilCapitalize First LetterPredictive Text, Capitalize the first letter of each new sentence (the phone knows that each word after a period or question mark is the beginning of a new sentence)

Fast_PencilNo CapitalizationPredictive Text, no capitalization

Fast_PencilAll CAPSPredictive Text, All CAPS

Slow_PencilCapitalize First LetterNo predictive text, Capitalize the first letter of each new sentence

Slow_PencilNo CapitalizationNo predictive text, no capitalization

Slow_PencilAll CAPSNo predictive text, all CAPS

Numbers_onlyNumber mode (allows only numbers to be entered)

There are a few more tips to cover, but you should have the hang of it by now, and the “advanced” stuff changes a bit more depending on the type of phone you have. I’ll write more about them at another time.

Happy Texting!