The issue is whether hardware keyboards on mobile phones are a good idea, and there’s a charming little prognosticate-off in progress. In this corner: John Gruber, who’s almost always right, saying (and I quote) “Normal people aren’t planning to do much typing on their new smartphone, and they’re probably right.” In the other corner, lots of people. Well, and me too.
[Update:] John revisits the question in Mobile Phone Keyboards.
Let me start by calling out to Lukas Mathis’ Virtual Keyboards, Real Keyboards, which points out that America and the rest of the world may offer meaningfully different contexts for this debate.
I’ve had an good Internet-connected phone since December. As of now, I will absolutely not consider using any such device that doesn’t include a physical keyboard.
Now, I’m not that weird. Sure enough I’m a geek, but given that, my tastes are pretty mainstream. On the face of it, you might think John is arguing that yes, I am weird; I found the Android/G1/HTC keyboard instantly addicting, but other people won’t.
That’s unfair: John’s argument is subtler: that Most People’s first Internet-connected mobile device will be an iPhone, whose on-screen keyboard is Good Enough For Most People, and thus they’ll never get hooked on a hardware keyboard. You should really go read his Palm Saturday in full, but I’ll quote anyhow:
That leaves the keyboard. I’ve been thinking about this ever since the keyboard-less iPhone launched, and it is my theory that a hardware keyboard is a significant selling point for only one group of customers: those who already own a phone with a hardware keyboard, and that group is a niche. A nice niche, but a niche nonetheless.
Here’s why. Most normal people have yet to buy their first smartphone. That’s why the stakes are so high — it’s a wide open market frontier, but it won’t remain that way for long. Normal people aren’t planning to do much typing on their new smartphones, and they’re probably right. Any smartphone QWERTY keyboard, software or hardware, is going to be better than what most people are used to, which is pecking things out on a phone with a 0-9 numeric keypad.
I dunno. I could draw parallels with Apple’s lengthy and deeply misguided conviction that one button on a mouse is enough. And maybe I am a niche. But you know, it’s a great big honking niche that includes a ton of Android and Blackberry and now Palm Pre users. And the iPhone users will be sitting next to them in departure lounges and staff meetings and coffee shops and watching them power-thumb their thoughts to their friends.
QWERTY Cool? · While driving around this weekend, the radio played me an ad from one of the mobile network operators, having fun with the word “QWERTY” and then putting the marketing hammer behind the word. Here’s the graphic:
All Things Considered · John, I’ll take that bet.