Why Physical Keyboards are Still Relevant

Jul 22, 2010

With the DROID X sold out, Apple’s iPhone 4 continuing to capture headlines, and the touchscreen market booming, it’s quickly becoming clear that the virtual keyboard is here to stay. And whether consumers like it or not, they will need to live with it.

But what will become of the physical keyboard? Will it join the pantheon of past technology solutions that lacked the longevity so many other technologies have? Some might think so. After all, devices with physical keyboards are slowly leaving store shelves in favor of devices like Apple’s iPhone or the Motorola Droid X that ditch keys for a virtual keyboard.

But I don’t.

Try as we might to get rid of physical keyboards and talk up their supposed obsolescence, there is still a lot of value in traditional typing methods. For one, physical keyboards are far more accurate than their virtual counterparts. And for those of us that have spent years using physical keyboards, typing on a virtual keyboard actually slows us down.

But it goes beyond that. Virtual keyboards are sometimes more trouble than they’re worth. Yes, they’re really neat to show off to friends, but when they auto-correct the wrong word, it makes typing far less efficient than it should be.

There’s another major issue standing in the way of virtual keyboards: they don’t work in most business areas.

Let’s not forget that the majority of sectors in the industry are not capable of accommodating virtual keyboards. As I write this, I’m using a Windows-based desktop that’s connected to a Bluetooth keyboard sitting on the desk in front a monitor. It might be “old school” to some younger tech users, but it’s the way in which millions of people around the globe are interacting with the digital world. Are they going to be expected to change all that when they know that doing so will make them less efficient? I just don’t see the average, novice tech user buying a 24-inch display, placing it on their laps, and typing out messages as with a virtual keyboard. It makes little sense.

The enterprise is another space where the prospect of virtual keyboards falls short. In the corporate world, productivity reigns supreme. Considering virtual keyboards typically make users far less productive than physical keyboards, companies will likely be hard-pressed to switch to a different input system just because Steve Jobs thinks it’s the better way. In the enterprise, profits mean everything. And virtual keyboards can hurt those profits.

So, before we put the last nail in the physical keyboard’s coffin, maybe it’s time to take a step back and realize that it’s with us for the long haul. With there eventually be a better way? Possibly. But for the next decade, I’d say physical keyboards will stick with us. They’re still too efficient, useful, and perhaps most importantly, accurate, to be replaced by a virtual counterpart.

It might be old school, but you know what? Old school works just fine for me.

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