The debate over which is preferable between on-screen keyboards and hardware keyboards on mobile have gone on for years. Usually, adherents of either camp pitching their tents without consideration of a number of factors that influence the choices involved.
If you don’t have the time to read a full article, here’s the summary: the two most important factors are the size of the user’s fingers, and the size of the touchscreen display.
If you have the time for the detailed analysis, here goes.
Exhibit One: Tablets
I am not sure that there has been anyone who has used a tablet and complained that the onscreen keyboard is inadequate. The reason is simple: the tablet’s display is large enough to deliver a pleasant typing experience. As such, there is very little valid reason to desire a hardware keyboard.
Exhibit Two: Budget Smartphones
At the other end of the divide are those budget touchscreen smartphones with 2.8 inch displays. Maybe even those with up to 3 inches in size.
Have you tried typing on some of those? I have used and reviewed the Gaga phone. Simply, put: it is not impossible to type on it, but with my big fingers, it is painful and fraught with errors.
EveryOne Has A Tipping Point
The truth is that everyone has a tipping point at which finding touchscreen typing uncomfortable or unusable becomes a non-issue.
Very likely, the smaller your fingers, the lower your tipping point. For example, many users find the 3.5 inch displays of the iPhone and others like the Nokia N8 a comfortable spot. Those are usable for me, but that’s not my tipping point.
Exhibits Three: HTC HD 7; Samsung Galaxy S II
What do the HD 7 and Galaxy S II have in common? A 4.3-inch display. I find that with my large fingers, I am able to comfortably type on the on-screen displays of both of these devices?
Is 4.3 inches my tipping point? I doubt it. But I am almost fairly certain that the 5.3 inches display of the Galaxy Note will be. or maybe not. One thing is for sure, I don’t find myself longing for a hardware QWERTY keyboard on a tablet. That tells me in what direction to look.
In my opinion, it isn’t a case of hardware keyboards being obsolete. Below a certain display size, a hardware keyboard is a more efficient text input tool. Above that, things begin to change. The tipping point – that point where you no longer find a hardware keyboard an absolute necessity – is different for everyone, but I believe that it is there.
The question is: What is your tipping point?