Mobile phones are getting smarter and their screens are getting bigger. The days of the traditional keyboard are numbered and it seems that the touch screen is the way forward. But will it be enough to replace completely all mobile keyboards?
Arguably, the advent of the smartphone in 2007, with its touch sensitive display, was the final straw for mobile phone manufacturers and users alike. Since then, we have seen a surge in demand for larger screens and this trend looks set to continue. As a result, mobile phone manufacturers have had no choice but to increase the size of the devices in order to cater for the bigger displays. This has led to many consumers complaining about bulkier phones which do not fit into small pockets or purses. However, these complaints have fallen on deaf ears as many new touchscreen smartphones released in 2012 had larger displays than ever before.
There has been much speculation that Apple will announce its first phablet (phone/tablet hybrid) later this year. Rumours are rife that it will boast a screen measuring between 4.8″ and 6″. If these rumours turn out to be true then Apple would be joining an already crowded market consisting of HTC, LG and Samsung who already offer similar sized devices. RIM’s Blackberry 10 operating system will also
When Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, it included a touchscreen instead of a physical keyboard. It was quite a gamble for a company that was already struggling to keep its head above water. Since then, the touchscreen has become ubiquitous across every major mobile device.
Android phones also have touchscreens, as do tablets and Windows Touch PCs. The only time we see physical keyboards is when they’re built into the hardware like with BlackBerrys or smartphones with sliding keyboards.
Smartphones and tablets are set to replace PCs completely within the next decade. This will mean that people who use computers will be using touchscreens instead of traditional keyboards and mice. In fact, this is already happening now as more and more people abandon their desktops and laptops for portable devices.
Physical keyboards will eventually disappear altogether, but don’t expect it to happen overnight. Trying to type on a touchscreen can be frustrating at times, especially if you’re using a smartphone. Smartphone users are also accustomed to using physical QWERTY keyboards so switching to touchscreens can be difficult at first.
Trying to type on an iPad or Android tablet can also be frustrating because there’s just too much space between keys. When typing on a smartphone, you can
The technology for touch screens has been around for decades, but in the past, their cost-to-benefit ratio was prohibitive. However, recent technological developments have made this a much more attractive option. Touch screens allow users to interact with the technology in a more direct way than by tapping keys on an external keyboard. A recent study showed that people who used touch screens were able to complete jobs faster and had fewer errors than those using regular keyboards.
Touch screens will be most useful in professions where it is important to be able to access information quickly. This includes medical personnel who need to access patient records, sales staff who need to access customer information, and public safety personnel who need to retrieve data about a particular person or location, among others.
The rise of touch screen technology will provide new challenges for designers of mobile devices. By eliminating the physical keyboard, designers will have more freedom to create a device that looks and feels better without sacrificing functionality or ergonomics. The next generation of mobile devices may feature larger screens with higher resolution, while eliminating the bulky keyboard of today’s smartphones and tablets.
The smartphone keyboard is in its dying days. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to over the past couple of months as I’ve tried to use a touchscreen keyboard for my everyday typing. It doesn’t matter that the keyboard is one of the best available. The onscreen keyboard, in its current form, just isn’t good enough for me to keep using it indefinitely.
In my tests of a variety of keyboards for our review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, I found that each one had annoying traits that made typing on a virtual keyboard more difficult and less satisfying than typing on real keys. Even after using an onscreen keyboard exclusively for weeks, I never got used to these problems and never knew what to expect from my next key press. If a touchscreen is going to be my only input device, it has got to be better than the physical keyboard it replaces.
The constant inaccuracies weren’t the only problems I encountered when using an onscreen keyboard. Because the screen is generally smaller than a regular keyboard, many keys are removed or combined with other keys through long presses or sliding gestures, which makes it more difficult to type quickly without errors.
Research firm IDC predicts that the smartphone market will grow by 55 percent this year, with touch screens dominating the sales. Apple’s iPhone and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion are already selling more touch-screen phones, which means more and more people have figured out how to use them effectively.
This is the first step toward a larger goal: Making touch screens the dominant mode of data entry on mobile devices. The days of thumb typing on a miniature keyboard are coming to an end.
“If you look at all of the smart phones, pretty much everyone except RIM is going to be doing [touch screens],” said IDC analyst Will Stofega. “There is a huge migration that is going to happen.”
The shift has been years in the making, but it has accelerated as major companies like Apple and Palm shifted their organizations around a new way to interact with computers. Both companies have enjoyed successes with their new designs, while some other long-time phone makers, like Nokia, are struggling to make similar transitions.
I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction: in the next decade, we’ll see the birth and rapid rise of touch screen technology. It’s already starting to take off with the iPod Touch and the new iPhone, but I think it will soon spread to other devices as well.
I’m no stranger to touch screen technology. The first time I saw it was in an ATM at my local bank, and more recently on an airport information kiosk. In both cases, however, the touch screens were used for little more than navigating menus; there was never any need for text input.
The iPhone is different. Apple has managed to implement touch screen text input in such a way that you can actually type without looking at the keyboard. Sure, it takes some practice to get used to it (and I’ve heard mixed reviews), but after a while you’re typing as fast with your thumbs as you would with a regular keyboard.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.