Microsoft Phones to Have Physical Keyboards. They’re Doomed.

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Images of the Microsoft’s upcoming phones has leaked. I guess Microsoft feels “old school” about this; that people really want “real” keyboards, but that tide is rapidly turning.

RIM knows it, hence the Storm and now Storm 2. Google knows it, which is why Android has a software keyboard. I believe even Palm knows it, but they couldn’t get a software keyboard ready in time for the Pre/Pixie. (They also couldn’t get desktop software or a decent API developed, but I digress.)

I’ve outlined the differences and advantages between hardware/software keyboards before, and since that time have become even more convinced they’re the only way to go. They simply make too much sense for the user and the manufacturer.

For example, with the 3.0 OS upgrade Apple was able to add a landscape keyboard option to every iPhone owner. Just like that. They’ve also added new keys and shortcuts. Even the Japanese Emoji symbols are available via the App Store. All because of the tremendous flexibility of a software keyboard.

Meanwhile, not having a physical keyboard means the device can be thinner and lighter. It also means it doesn’t change shape when using the keyboard (like the Pre), or sacrifice screen size (like Blackberrys).

The only advantages to physical keyboards are:

  • Getting a “touch” phone to market sooner because you don’t write one,
  • Satisfying the people used to them who think they can’t switch.

The former is a matter of being late to the party, and in Palm’s case hurt them because the keyboard they’re using is cheap. The latter is a perception that will change as people find a software keyboard is even more usable.

Here’s my prediction: In about three years time the physical keyboard holdouts will be complaining about their lack of choice in the marketplace. All the “cool” phones will be using software keyboards.

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6 thoughts on “Microsoft Phones to Have Physical Keyboards. They’re Doomed.

  1. MSFT believes in never abandoning any “feature”, no matter how obsolete. They are bound by legacy.

  2. There will always be people that prefer some things over others and I’m sure there will always be manufacturers to cater to those people. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a physical, tactile keyboard. It does add more bulk and parts, but so what. Apple doesn’t believe in excess parts for any device so the tablet will be a natural for them with a touch-screen keyboard. Apple saves money in the process by not needing to customize physical keys for different countries. Still, I think RIM is doing a service by offering both touch and physical keyboards on their products. Different companies have different philosophies. Apple bends users to their will. RIM lets the customer decide. Both companies are doing well in product sales.

  3. sfmitch,

    My prognostication abilities may be no better than yours, but the software keyboard’s advantages seem too great.

    For example, if you’re catering to “different strokes” do you pick portrait or landscape? The former (as in the Pre) is smaller, whereas the latter reduces the vertical scrolling area of your screen. A good software keyboard can use both orientations.

    There’s no mechanical failure of a software keyboard.

    The keys can be cleanly relabeled for the job at hand (none of this two or three different labels in different colors crap).

    A user can type small amounts of text one-handed, whereas a physical keyboard requires two hands — if only to activate it.

    And on and on. Really, the only reason I think physicals are still with us is because not everybody has their software keyboard ready. They were caught with their pants down. So they make it sound like it’s a “feature”, but they’re working on a software keyboard and will get it in their phones as soon as they can.

    As for the people who believe they can’t use a software keyboard, they’re the same as the people 20+ years ago who couldn’t use a mouse. They used Microsoft clumsy keyboard navigation and were holdouts to the last, but I believe it’s a lost cause.

    Anyway, we’ll see how the landscape looks three years from now.

  4. I can’t predict the future worth a darn, BUT I have to believe you are wrong.

    I predict that the market will look very similar to today and that both soft and hard keyboards will be well represented – even in the ‘cool’ phones.

    I think there is no ‘right’ answer for this. Different strokes for different folks.

  5. I agree, these phones look like crap, especially the stubbier, fat Pre-like looking model! I’ve read somewhere that Apple is working on a touch keyboard that will provide tactile feedback, giving the user the same sensation of feel as if they were using a real physical keyboard! If that is the case, then surely the physical keyboard is about to go the way of the Dodo bird!

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