Strong opinions, weakly held

How essential are smart phone keyboards?

John Gruber says people who’ve never used a smart phone with a keyboard won’t miss them. Tim Bray differs.

I’m not sure where I come down in this debate. I like keyboards — I use one all day, but I’ve only had an iPhone, and I don’t regret not having a physical keyboard. It could be that I just don’t know what I’m missing, but that’s Gruber’s point. There are a lot of people who won’t know what they’re missing. I do know that I love the fact that the iPhone is remarkably thin and small and has a huge screen, and I am sure you’d have to give that up to some extent to have a keyboard. I’m willing to remain ignorant of the physical keyboard advantage.


  1. I had a Treo 650 with a physical keyboard right before I switched to an iPhone almost two years ago.

    I’m reasonably proficient with the software keyboard, though the lack of feedback and constant error-correction frustrates me to no end sometimes.

    But, I was also reasonably proficient with the hardware keyboard, even though the tiny chiclet keys were hard to get at with a blunt fingertip and the lack of smart auto-correction saw me making just as many edits afterward sometimes.

    It’s a toss-up. I don’t feel like I lost anything significant by switching, and the advantages of a configurable keyboard seem to outweigh any slight speed advantage a physical keyboard would get me.

  2. A physical keyboard is an absolute must-have for me. If there’s an emergency and I need to restart services remotely, every wasted keystroke costs us hundreds of dollars. I absolutely hate my Treo 600, but having spent several hours testing a jailbroken iPhone with several SSH clients, I may never be able to get rid of it.

  3. Can’t do without a physical keyboard. I’ve tried both and I’m maybe 1/4 as fast on the software keyboard.

    Don’t see how some people do it.

  4. I’m about to buy a Palm Pre, partly to spite Apple, but mostly because it has a keyboard. My wife is an Apple fan and has an iPhone but I can’t type for crap on that onscreen keyboard, whereas I am pretty fast on my Treo (which unfortunately in every other regard is stone-age technology).

    I gave my Google I/O phone (which I guess was a G2) to a coworker because I couldn’t stand typing on the onscreen keyboard.

  5. I’ve had my iPhone for a month now, and my next smart phone will have a keyboard. The iPhone has convinced me that I love having a smarter phone, but less than 10% into it I’m counting down the months ’til my contract is up.

  6. Hmmm. I’ve had a Blackberry Pearl for ~3 years now, and have an iPod Touch. I like the “real” keyboard (even with the limitations of the compressed layout of the Pearl) and haven’t been too impressed with the software keyboard on the Touch.

    It’s about time for a new phone and I’ve been trying to decide whether to go with the G1 or wait for the successor to come out (I want to stay on T-Mobile) — I think y’all may be talking me into the G1…

  7. Thomas Brownback

    June 11, 2009 at 1:57 am

    Virtual, physical, either way, qwerty keyboards were not designed to be this small.

    Along these lines, Keith Lang enters this debate here, suggesting we are well overdue for an interface shift.

  8. Regarding that Keith Lang article, I found Graffiti on the Palm quite usable and would happily trade the iPhone keyboard or a physical tiny keyboard for that.

    Unfortunately the market apparently doesn’t agree with me.

  9. Virtual keyboards are great for the pre-teen-tiny hand group, but for any grownup, a physical keyboard is a must. I tried the MyTouch, but it took so long to type and correct and retype, that I traded it in for a G-1 which has a keyboard. Any phone I get will have a keyboard from here on out. Even my 14 and 16 year old sons prefer my keyboard to their virtuals. Now I know where to look when my phone isn’t where I left it.

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