Knowledge Base

Mobile Hardware Keyboards VS Software Keyboards

grand master

In a new series of articles, we’d like to find out what the ideal mobile phone might look like if it were designed by giffgaff members. What kind of specifications would it have? Would it have a touchscreen, a keyboard or both? Would it run Android, iOS, Windows Phone or something else?


In this first of a series of articles, we look at one of the most important input mechanism on a mobile phone: the keyboard. As proud giffgaff goodybag owners, you probably keep your fingers busy making the most of those unlimited texts. If you could design your own perfect mobile phone to make use of those unlimited texts, would it have a hardware keyboard, an on-screen software keyboard or something entirely new and different?




Traditionally, most mobile phones came with a hardware keypad which was inspired by touchtone telephones. A keypad usually has 12 buttons and is designed mainly for calling. It features a few extra buttons to answer or reject a phone call. Such keypads could also be used to send text messages –T9 predictive texting spawned out of number keypads and occasionally led to embarrassing or confusing text messages (a T9onym is where predictive texting gives a different word to the one you expect – for example book instead of cool).


Hardware Keyboards


blackberrybold9900.jpgFull QWERTY keyboards were popularised by BlackBerry. Featuring an individual button for each letter like on a laptop computer, full QWERTY keyboards did away with the hassle of predictive texting and allowed mobile phone users to text even faster than before and to write e-mail to their hearts content. For this reason, BlackBerries are particularly popular with businesspeople and social butterflies. You’ll be able to use one on giffgaff from November.


Software Keyboards


With the move towards fully touch-controlled smartphones, many of the latest smartphones such as the Apple iPhone 4S, Samsung Galaxy S II and HTC Sensation only feature an on-screen touchscreen keyboard. Doing away with a hardware keyboard frees up more space for the display so you can get a richer photo, video and web browsing experience on the main display.


swype.jpgSoftware keyboards have several benefits: the keyboard itself can change depending on how you’re using your phone. For example: rotate your phone sideways and the keyboard rotates too. Or open the phone dialler and you’ll get a number-only keypad rather than a full QWERTY. The same keyboard can also be operated in multiple languages - simply change the keyboard layout to your preferred language.


The disadvantage of a software keyboard is that they can be slower to use and less accurate than a full hardware keyboard. Although many software keyboards will automatically correct spelling mistakes, people inevitably make more mistakes when typing on an on-screen keyboard. This can make software keyboards frustrating to use especially in a fast-paced instant messaging chat (BBM, Google Talk, Facebook Chat, etc.). Software keyboards can also be less secure: it’s much easier for somebody to “screen watch” and to observe you entering your password on a software keyboard.


Alternative Software Keyboards


swype.jpgAndroid devices allow customers to customise their own keyboard and it’s spawned off a whole industry of keyboard designers and engineers. If you’ve got an Android device such as the Samsung Galaxy S II, LG Optimus 3D or HTC Sensation you can download a range of keyboards from the Android Market including:


  • Swype & SlideIT: Rather than tapping on each individual letter in a word, simply trace between the letters.
  • SwiftKey: Uses artificial intelligence to “guess” what you’re about to type next.
  • ThickButtons: Learns how you use your keyboard and enlarges the buttons it thinks you’ll want to tap next for improved accuracy.

The Keyboard of the Future


The mobile industry still isn’t decided about the “best” mobile keyboard. Whilst BlackBerry is sticking to hardware keyboards and Apple to software keyboards, a number of phones provide both an onscreen software keyboard and a slide-out hardware keyboard: the HTC Desire Z and Sony Ericsson Xperia Pro just to name two. These devices aim to give the best of both worlds: an on-screen keyboard for short messages and a slide-out hardware keyboard for longer messages and e-mails. Then there’s also the Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Play which took things further with a slide-out PlayStation games controller in addition to a software keyboard.


mozilla-seabird.jpgJapanese operator KDDI is currently working on recreating the sensation of pressing real buttons on a touchscreen keyboard whilst the guys at Mozilla are working towards having a full-size keyboard which can be projected onto a table. The projection keyboard (pictured right) would finally be free from the confines of the phone and would no longer be restricted in size by the dimensions of your phone.


With the industry still undecided about the keyboard of the future, what keyboard would allow you to make the most of unlimited texts on giffgaff? Which type of keyboard do you prefer using to stay in touch with your friends and colleagues? Which one would you put onto your perfect phone for giffgaff members?


giffgaff member trivia: Why is the keypad on a mobile phone laid out differently to a number keypad on a calculator or laptop computer?


I do like to use a real keyboard and not an on screen.


I do like my full QWERTY keyboards,


I wonder how long it will be before we get voice activated texting ?

and do-away with the keys altogether.


One presumes you would dictate a message which magically appears on the screen (hurrah for dragon)

which you would then send into the ether to be read by the recipient at their convenience.


Of course the next stage would be to remove the need to read the message yourself and have a chip in your 'phone which could interpret the symbols and a robotic voice can read them out to you.


At some point this could all take place in real time. A really brilliant idea.


Or you could just use the telephone Smiley Happy



giffgaff member trivia: Why is the keypad on a mobile phone laid out differently to a number keypad on a calculator or laptop computer?


I DON'T KNOW!!! And it's bugging me. What's the answer? Smiley Happy


has to be keys with my dirty fingers.

grand master

@ttricky Nobody knows for sure - one of those weird historical things! @iceqntrider posted a link to a website with several theories...



lynz6 that exists for android phones lol. Vlingo. its a free app, been around4a while :-)

Well, it would be good if the screen turned into a physical keyboard when needed, but can't see that technology being around for a while unfortunately.

I do prefer software keyboards to physical keyboards, I personally can't stand the keyboards on Blackberries; the keys are too small! Where as on a software keyboard there are many different keyboards you can download (if on android) to suit you. The keyboards I dislike the most are the physical keyboards which slide out from the side, most of the people I know that have them don't use it and in  my opinion it just makes the phone unneccesarily thicker.


Contrary to the previous poster, here's a vote in favour of a slide-out keyboard. I like proper keys I can poke at and whixch don't cost me screen real estate.


The TyTN and Xperia Mini Pro designers seem to agree!


I've always liked the slide out keyboards as with XDA Stellar (HTC Kaiser) XDA mini S (HTC Wizard) but went to all software keyboard with the HTC HD2 which has a big enough screen to make errors minimal.

Now have a Blackberry 9700 an iPhone 4 and HTC Desire Z. I must say I rarely use the iPhone for messaging as it's too frustrating (or I'm just too impatient) and use the BB solely for messaging (email BBM etc) though I prefer the slideout on the desire Z, and it doesn't have the bulk of earlier iterations.