November 20, 2003

Old Habits Die Hard

Roland Piquepaille reviews two "new bizarre keyboards" which would be of use for mobile applications. One is a flexible, waterproof, qwerty design, and the other a 15-or-so key new layout.

The flexible keyboard is a useful evolution of the standard qwerty keyboard, big enough to type on, but more easily carried due to its flexibility. However, it's still quite big, because it has to fit in 64 keys, and it looks like you'd need a hard surface to lay it on to type properly.

The Frogpad keyboard, in contrast, has more to interest someone like me, who is keen on better and smaller input methods, so I can have a tiny smartphone. Unfortunately, I think it's likely to fail, as are most of the truly revolutionary ideas for text entry.

The bigger problem with new and different keyboard solutions isn't the technical challenge of finding a better method, it's persuading people to adopt it. The qwerty layout is still used for PCs, despite being first designed to slow down typists, but it's familiar, and has good enough usability - for most usage, you press one key, and get what's printed on the keyface. Despite the number of keys used, qwerty is still finding favour with mobile devices skewed towards text entry, small keyboards seem to be winning out in favour of methods such as the grafitti hand-writing recognition. The only real competitor is the 0-9,*,# layout provided by mobile phones, and that's only gained traction because it's a well established way to enter numbers - so it's perfect when you expect to enter lots of phone numbers, and only after you'd bought your mobile phone did you find yourself entering more text than numbers (text messages, looking up names in the phonebook, etc.).

There is some experimentation going on with mobile phones, the Nokia 3650 and the Siemens SX1, although Nokia have reverted to the traditional layout with the 3650's successor, the 3660. Still, I don't think the 3650 was a disaster sales-wise, so there's still hope...

Posted by Adrian at November 20, 2003 12:32 PM | TrackBack

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