Touch screens and keyboards…

A physical keyboard or a virtual one? That’s a chioice which is playing out on many mobile devices these days. I’m prompted to muse about this topic by an excellent article in Network World on the evolution of the virtual keyboard and the explosive growth of the tablet and smartphone market. Use of a virtual keyboard is not a Hobson’s Choice to take it or leave it, as there are a continuum of options offered for device interfaces. Bluetooth connectivity on tablets and smartphones gives the flexibility of matching input need with the tool. I use the virtual keyboard extensively on my iPad, but also carry a Bluetooth keyboard in my backpack for text-intensive operations. I’m intrigued by the power of multitouch gestures and alternatives such as Swype (though I have not tried Swype). I’m a good touch typist, and that is as much a curse as a blessing when one considers changing input techniques. I think that the point made in the NW article about generational preferences is intriguing and likely will be a big factor in future user interface (UI) designs. We are strongly tied to the past. The Qwerty keyboard itself was intentionally designed for inefficiency, to keep the complex mechanical systems of early typewriters from jamming. I’m optimistic that the capabilities of multitouch display in our mobile devices will encourage the innovation necessary to move us beyond the typewriter that’s the anchor keeping us from flowing down the river of progress.

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