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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?

 

Keypads

 

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

 

Full 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.

 

Software 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

 

Android 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.

 

Japanese 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?

46 Comments
soothsayer

Actually full QWERTY keyboards were popularised by Remington in the 1880s' with the Remington E series of typewriters :P

newcomer

cool.

navigator

If I'm honest nothing beats a physical keyboard to type on. The quickest for me was a T9 type one, good compromise with keysize/space. Smartphones have changed to fit a big screen, these days I use Swype as I can still text with one hand using it but I do have to look at it.

kingpin
i prefer t9 layout n i find Smart Keyboard perfect4that 1ce u get the settings right :-)
beginner

Projected keyboard - crazy ! ! !

beginner

Both a software keyboard and hardware keyboard is what i like, my finger sometimes dnt press the right button and i like the feedback from actually pressing a butto. the software keyboard must rotate as this can be usefull when on the go. keep the scrren big and clear also.

beginner

p.s the keyboard should be discreate & easily put away like a slide out type. the bb style is just a mess and far too small buttons sacrificing screen space

trainee

Hmm, the perfect phone?

 

Touchscreens are out unless there is a physical switch to disable it, how many times have you locked the phone and put it in your pocket only to find a few hours later when you get it out that the screen has been pressed so it's been on all the time and drained most of the battery? A constant problem for me with the HTC devices. The other two problems with touch screens is that they fail more often due to the added complexity and the cost of replacement parts goes through the roof.

Blackberry have it right, or they did. Usable a physical keyboard and no touchscreen.

 

As far as communication goes it would need WiFi, bluetooth, GPS and the ability to not only turn each element on/off as required but also able to define when they are used. So if you're connecting via WiFi and lose the connection it shouldn't automatically switch to the carrier. The GPS software should be up to the standard of the stand alone devices, there is no excuse not to, it's just a case of the manufacturers cutting corners and doing the absolute minimum to qualify as a feature.

 

Screen: big enough to use the features. the GPS & media player need at least a 2" screen.

 

Battery life of at least a week during normal use. If you've got to restrict which features you use to stretch battery life then you may as well not have them.

 

Connections: USB for charging & data (including use of a standard USB or thumb drive ) and a 3.5mm headphone socket.

 

Memory expansion: SDcard variant with no size limit, hot swap and external fitting (as opposed to under the battery).

 

It must be water, dust & shock proof. If not, it isn't suitable for outdoor use.

 

No camera. It doesn't matter how good it is, it will never compete with a dedicated item, there simply isn't room for it, so it will always be a gimic.

 

Ability to upgrade/customise the OS without a 50/50 chance of bricking it - take note HTC.

 

OS: A variant of puppy linux. Simple, clean and open source.

 

So, in summary: A non-touchscreen blackberry with the function of a standalone GPS,and a Creative Zen, the ruggedness and battery life of the first Samsung solid and the ability to use terrabyte Sdcards when they become available in about 5 years time.

 

 

kingpin
nah a touchscreen is essential now, makes it so much easier to navigate the web etc :-)
dabbler
nothing beats a normal keyboard that you can feel the buttons. You can text in the dark and it's alot easier to type. But if they can make a touch the same quality as iphone I would suggest touch.:-) sorry forgot to add if they can make a slide out keypad that even better