The Wall St. Journal today covers two different physical keyboard attachments for iPhone, the $100 (aptly-named?) ‘Typo’ and the Solomatrix Spike. The TL;DR is that both of these keyboards are OK (Joanna Stern seems to prefer the Typo) but have fatal flaws that push them towards edge cases – people who’ve recently just shifted away from a Blackberry, have sausage fingers, or suffer from some other problem with getting data into their phone via a screen.
Their real problem is that iOS on the iPhone isn’t designed for a physical keyboard. It is designed to flip back and forth, from landscape to portrait depending on the use and the app. It was designed from the very beginning to be agile and portable and with that portability, the ultimate sacrifice was made to the smartphone physical keyboard.
To this day, I don’t think I am faster at typing and multitasking on an iPhone as I was on the physical keyboard of the 2007 Danger Sidekick that it replaced. But the wealth of other keyboard options and the ability to be both portrait and landscape more than make up for the speed.
The market has proved I’m not alone in this assumption. There were plenty of Android phones with physical keyboards that tried to capitalize on defecting Blackberry users. None of them succeeded. Even BlackBerry these days seems to be putting more of its remaining weight behind its software keyboard phones.
So what’s going to happen to those remaining people who still want a physical keyboards?
It’s always effective to go to a Steve Jobs quote in times like these and he’s got a good one about getting people to use keyboards.
And so, it turns out people want keyboards. I mean, when I started in this business one of the biggest challenges was that people couldn’t type. And one day we realized that death would eventually take care of this. And so, people know how to type now. And if you do email of any volume, you gotta have a keyboard.
Jobs was talking about “non-typists” fading away but ironically, this extinction will also happen to phone keyboards themselves. Software like Apple’s predictive text, Swype, Swiftkey and many others will continue to improve on the soft keyboards to the point where even the die hard physical keyboard folks will have to concede defeat (or they will die off, I guess).
In fact, I think if Siri gets more accurate or Google Now continues to improve and gets itself in front of many more eyes, even soft keyboards will start to go from a necessity, to a “nice to have,” to the same kind of nostalgic option as those iPhone physical keyboards from Typo and the Solomatrix above.