Guest Post: Keyboards on Smartphones and the Future of Buttons


When a new phone hits the market, we tend to get terribly excited about its new features. And rightly so: what are boundaries for, if not to push frantically? But with the release of the latest BlackBerry 10 handsets, perhaps the most important contribution to the future of the smartphone might come in the form of the continuing inclusion of an actual QWERTY keyboard.

While the iPhone has been holding steady at four buttons, and Android handsets are caught in a strange limbo between buttons and always-on touch-screen style soft keys, BlackBerry has held fast with its products’ trademark keyboards while also offering touchscreen options.

In the early days of the touchscreen boom, this might have been viewed as simply behind the times. But now, this decision is looking much more like a distinct vision. Sure, virtualizing your keyboard has its advantages – the potential for mechanical failure is minimised, while Android’s wide variety of third-party keyboard layouts pays testament to the touchscreen’s infinite adaptability. But the lack of discrete keys renders accurate touch-typing almost impossible – there is nothing to which one’s muscle memory can orient itself.

Ultimately, the ingenious lengths to which the developers of virtual keyboards go all seem to be an attempt to compensate for the fact that full touch-screen interfaces are simply missing something. BlackBerry has simply chosen not to give their customers unnecessary obstacles in the path towards efficient and intuitive usage.

But what about the flexibility offered by that extra screen space that can be repurposed and customized, I hear you cry? Granted, this protean capability is a major draw for touch-screen phones and a cornerstone of their app design. But while these types of phones have gained real estate, they’ve also lost the potential for simple, immediate control through keyboard shortcuts.

On BlackBerry handsets, the R key can act as a reply button when you’re scrolling through your emails. No big deal, right? Well, when you’ve got 30-odd individual keys, that equates to an awful lot of extra functionality at your fingertips. On a touchscreen-only interface, these same functions would almost certainly require you to tap and scrolling through menus, make ambiguous and unreliable swipe gestures, or – worst of all – fiddle around with tiny on-screen boxes that require laser-guided finger accuracy on an unhelpfully uniform glass surface.

While the market continues to be fixated mainly on touchscreen interfaces, perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to speculate that there might still be a bright new future around the corner for keyboard phones. Could these two families even come together to create a new hybrid interface with all the flexibility of a touchscreen and the ease-of-use of a hardware keyboard? Only time will tell. Our busy thumbs await an exciting new future.

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This post is a series of guest post written by guest bloggers on The opinions of the author are his own and not mine 🙂

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