The touchscreen has finally convinced a major manufacturer that sticking old technology into new devices doesn’t work. That and the fact that market doesn’t seem to be fond of buying these fatter, uglier phones. I know, I know: this is actually about physical keyboards being phased out, regardless if it’s QWERTY or not, but I’ll take it as a win nonetheless.
A QWERTY board on a mobile is just too clunky. No wonder more than one manufacturer has tried to hide it using sliders or by tucking the keyboard out of sight. Even RIM came out with a fully touchscreen phone, despite the BlackBerry brand’s raison d’etre being a physical keyboard. Add to that the stress of having to hit miniscule keys to generate miniscule text on a miniscule screen and you have a recipe for a repetitive injury lawsuit.
But wait, you cry out, how about us folks who are 1000% more productive when using a physical keyboard on our phones?
Sorry folks, it’s called market forces. And a massive migration on a scale never seen before is forcing touch-typers to the margins.
You see, each day, millions of people around the world are joining the touchscreen generation. And the vast majority of them are blissfully ignorant of the QWERTY layout and its quirky foibles. You see, they’ve never owned a computer before. A push-button handphone maybe, but not a PC or latptop. So by adding a physical keyboard with an ancient, cryptic keyboard layout, shrunk down to Mini-Me dimensions, you’re putting a monstrous usability hurdle in their way. These users are opting for sleeker, simpler and more adaptive touchscreen-only phones.
The market has spoken. So far, HTC is the first to listen. Even though QWERTY might still be king, it’s starting to look and smell like Richard the Third.
As people download and try out alternative keyboards via app stores, the market will also start clamoring for physical versions of the better virtual ones. Who knows, Dvorak might finally make headway at last! (Or maybe something even more enlightened and evolved?)
Usability and ergonomics might not be the main reasons why HTC is axing slide-out keyboards but it certainly sends the right signal: Mobile phones need better input mechanisms than the one we inherited from typewriters.
Which keyboard do you prefer on your mobile device: physical slideout or virtual touchscreen?