About this weblog

What you need to know: This weblog captures key data points about the global telecoms industry. I use it as an electronic notebook to support my work for Pringle Media.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Shut up and type

This post is sponsored by the Enterprise Mobile Hub and BlackBerry

Why the keyboard could make a comeback
In the annals of smartphone and tablet lore, the humble keypad seems destined to be overshadowed by more glamorous technologies, such as HD touchscreens, multi-core processors and speech recognition.

But outside the industry bubble, keypads really matter, particularly if you are typing anything more than a couple of sentences. To be fully productive, employees need to be able to enter text easily and quickly on their business mobile or tablet. And, when you are under time pressure, on-screen keyboards often mean typos and torture.

In the Android segment, there is extraordinarily high demand for keyboard apps that replace the default software shipped by manufacturers. However, if you read the reviews, none of these apps appear to be a clear winner with users – some people like predictive text and so-called gesture typing, where you swipe across the keypad. But others don’t. The only way to find the right app for you is to experiment and experiment again.

The steady flow of new keyboard apps suggests the technology is still a work in progress. But how far will it actually progress?

Tapping into tablets
In the tablet space, there is something of a backlash against onscreen keyboards. When I am working in a public place, strangers sometimes ask me about the Logitech keyboard case I use with my iPad.  In reporting its quarterly results in April, Logitech said: “Tablet Accessories was our strongest growth product category during the quarter [ending March 31], with sales up by more than four times and units nearly tripling. The majority of the growth was driven by continued strong demand for our Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, which was our best- selling product across all categories. We also experienced strong initial demand for our Ultrathin Keyboard for iPad mini, which began shipping during the quarter and made a strong contribution to the growth in the category. “

Logitech’s comments about the iPad mini keyboard are interesting, given that these tablets can just about fit in a jacket pocket and are much more mobile than their larger brethren.

Even in the traditional handset market, there is still strong demand for BlackBerry handsets with physical keyboards among young texters and executives wedded to email.  Returning to its roots, BlackBerry is busy rolling out its Q10 smartphone (pictured left), its first smartphone to run the new BlackBerry 10 operating system and feature a classic BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard.

It’s all sliding into place
As the guts of a smartphone can be squeezed into a increasingly slim form factor, (witness the new 6.18mm-thin Ascend P6 from Huawei), I suspect we will also see more models shipping with a slide out keyboard (in the style of the original Google Nexus handset).

Although this might seem like sacrilege, we may even see this feature on the iPhone one day. Siri-style speech input is a nice gimmick and it will gradually improve to the point where you can simply dictate emails. But talking into your phone isn’t going to be appropriate in many situations. A banker working on an M&A deal isn’t going to dictate an email on a crowded train, restaurant or bar.  

In organisations that haven’t embraced bring your own device (BYOD), many executives will lobby for the standard company phone to have a QWERTY keyboard, as they have to work after-hours, firing off emails or accessing documents on the go.  When I was with the Wall Street Journal, I would sometimes have to use my BlackBerry to make last minute updates to stories.

Although there is plenty of life left in the ubiquitous black slab, miniaturisation will enable smartphone form factors to evolve. And that could be the cue for the keyboard to make comeback. 

This post is sponsored by the Enterprise Mobile Hub and BlackBerry

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