Why does no one make phones with keyboards anymore?

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If you want a phone with a full keyboard then you’re pretty much out of luck. In the space of a couple of years, physical keyboards seem to have gone the way of the dodo. But why is this?

So what physical keyboard phones are available?

Today if you want a physical keyboard the only real options is the ailing Blackberry Q10 – which if you follow the phone industry, is pretty damning. Blackberry are not having a great time at the moment, and have even gone as far as announcing they’re pivoting away from consumer phones and are sticking with corporate contracts. The Q10, which was pretty much a make-or-break gamble though keeping pace spec-wise has failed following complaints of a poor user experience and crucially: lack of apps and support.

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Anyway – what about Android? When the platform was first unveiled back in 2008 the first Android phone, the G1 had a slide-out physical keyboard, as did many competing phones. These days, the only option if you really want an Android phone with a keyboard is the Motorola Droid 4… which is nearly two years old.

Why is this?

The decline in keyboard phones roughly tracks the fall of Blackberry. Again it was only a few years ago that Blackberry seemed like the company to beat when going after the youth market – as BBM provided an affordable way for the kidz to message each other, and you needed an Blackberry to use it. Now though, this has been eclipsed by the likes of WhatsApp, which is like BBM, but works across different platforms – killing the need to own a Blackberry.

More broadly – the trend seems to be people simply do not want keyboards. There’s a limit to how large a phone can reasonably be (whatever ‘phablet’ owners may tell you) – so why take up half the space on the black rectangle with a fixed keyboard at the expense of a larger screen? Why make everything else crappier, just to make typing subjectively easier?

Subjectively easier?

It’s easy to assume that because a full size keyboard on your computer is the fastest way of inputting text, it’ll be the best for your phone. I’d argue this is wrong. On your phone you’re not going to be typing out novels – maybe a few texts and emails, so there’s no need to devote so much device “real estate” to it.

In any case – there are some better solutions than tiny ‘real’ keys. Modern on-screen keyboards are actually pretty good. On Android for example, there are a couple of really great alternative keyboards you can download from the Google Play store.

Swiftkey is essentially a normal keyboard, but it is brilliant at auto-correct – allowing you to mash roughly where the key you need is, and it’ll be good at predicting the rest. How does is it so good at guessing? When setting it up, you link Switftkey to your text messages and emails, so it can see what words you use most often. Brilliant.

swype.png

Swype, on the other hand takes a different approach to text input. For this to work, you essentially draw a line between the keys that you want, and by analysing the path it will work out what road you were trying to write. The longer the word, the more unique it’s path – reducing the number of errors.

And if you don’t like typing, then why not try voice input? If you’ve ever used the iPhone’s Siri, it’s really quite astonishing how accurate it is. In addition to translating your words to text, you can also add in punctuation – so if you speak something like “Happy Birthday exclamation mark new paragraph from James” – it’ll have it all formatted correctly. Brilliant.

So could keyboard phones ever see a resurgence?

There’s rumours of a Droid 5 on the horizon but the trend is clear: No one seems to want a phone with a keyboard anymore.

This might seem a bit odd in the face of the phablets – so large that surely there’s room for a keyboard? Maybe, but don’t hold your breath. The future seems to be virtual – though considering the innovation seen with the likes of Swype and Siri, who knows how we’ll be writing our emails in the future?

James O’Malley

20 comments

  • im fucking pissed. first alltell made me get rid of my old keypad phone when they sold to verizon and i was forced to get a droid4 smartphone. ive prob used maybe 2 gigs total on it since it first came out THATS IT!!!. all i do is text and call whatever chick im boinking, and family. so now my usb port on my droid isnt working and i cant find one fkn phone with a keypad? its ridiculous. all i want is another droid4. if one company made a phone with a keypad theyd make a killing since nobody else has one. i saw bestbuy still has blackberrys so i guess ima go back in time 10 years just to be able to text easier. because thats really all i use this god damn thing for anymore. im so fkn sick of people typing shit to me and not realizing they sent typos and i say what? what did you mean? and they dont realize they made horrible auto correct typos and it takes 15 minutes for them to go back and fucking read their error so they can tell you wtf they are even talking about. plus these new phones are huge now. i thought the point of getting rid of keypads at first was to make a phone smaller. now they are enormous

  • You forgot about and discrimated against the deaf in phone design screw all you phone manufacturers your all just greedy voice only sellers. Screw you all.

  • The reason they don’t make them is they hate the deaf and teenagers! We love them but they won’t make them. Samsung stopped making with the Samsung Relay 4G and despite a lot of comments why not make a larger 5.5 to 6 inch phone with a sliding keyboard they just decided were not worth it. Screw you Samsung.

  • Strongly disagree with the article, and totally agree with the comments. The virtual keyboards actually pretty much wipe out the screen, no matter how big, while the sliders alow you to type normally,and yet have the full sreen experience. I think it’d definitely a win win, and that the companies are being idiots for not serving a small but significant market.

  • Strongly disagree with the article, and totally agree with the comments. The virtual keyboards actually pretty much wipe out the screen, no matter how big, while the sliders alow you to type normally,and yet have the full sreen experience. I think it'd definitely a win win, and that the companies are being idiots for not serving a small but significant market.

  • LG finally made an Android phone with full sliding keyboard: it’s the LG Optimus F3Q (Jelly Bean) ! Hell yeah !!

  • LG finally made an Android phone with full sliding keyboard: it's the LG Optimus F3Q (Jelly Bean) ! Hell yeah !!

  • I own a Nokia E7 with keyboard but it is almost 3 years old now. Sadly there is no choice anymore to buy a good phone with keyboard, so i bought a sony experia zr. I tryed to get used to the touchsceen keyboard but it is impossible to type one sentance without mistakes, and when using maps it is also not handy to only have a screen and no keys. I just can’t understand why nobody makes a good smartphone with a normal keyboard anymore. If somebody did it would be a bestseller.

  • I own a Nokia E7 with keyboard but it is almost 3 years old now. Sadly there is no choice anymore to buy a good phone with keyboard, so i bought a sony experia zr. I tryed to get used to the touchsceen keyboard but it is impossible to type one sentance without mistakes, and when using maps it is also not handy to only have a screen and no keys. I just can't understand why nobody makes a good smartphone with a normal keyboard anymore. If somebody did it would be a bestseller.

  • I have been on a droid 4 for 2 years+ now, and what everyone fails to notice, ( and inherently irritates me to know end,) is that a slide down keyboard does not use screen space. I have tested every other flagship phone out there, and it annoys me to no end when i cannot see the top of a page or text, because a touch keyboard 1/3 to 1/2(if you hold the phone horizontally) the size of the screen is commandeering it. I went to a store last week, and showed me that keyboards are going out of style because you can now talk to the phone to type. His example. CNN.com, I live in the south now, if i am sitting in any public space, and shout CNN.com at my phone i will get glared at, maybe even hit. I hate when people on their devices encroach on other people personal space. Please let me us my device in silence and in private with a keyboard. PLEASE bring Keyboards bacK!!!!!!!!!!!

    • about 2 years ago i was in a small dr office and some asshole was on his phone yelling to google to dictionary words or some shit. there was only like 6 chairs in a small waiting room and this asshole was practically yelling in my ear to his phone. its fucking irritating

  • I have been on a droid 4 for 2 years+ now, and what everyone fails to notice, ( and inherently irritates me to know end,) is that a slide down keyboard does not use screen space. I have tested every other flagship phone out there, and it annoys me to no end when i cannot see the top of a page or text, because a touch keyboard 1/3 to 1/2(if you hold the phone horizontally) the size of the screen is commandeering it. I went to a store last week, and showed me that keyboards are going out of style because you can now talk to the phone to type. His example. CNN.com, I live in the south now, if i am sitting in any public space, and shout CNN.com at my phone i will get glared at, maybe even hit. I hate when people on their devices encroach on other people personal space. Please let me us my device in silence and in private with a keyboard. PLEASE bring Keyboards bacK!!!!!!!!!!!

  • You miss the point that a slide-out keyboard takes no “real estate” as it does on the blackberry. Palm & HP did a fantastic job of this but that’s not a choice of the past too. I’m not convinced the industry knows if there’s a market for it because old keyboard users have no ship to jump to. All those HP/Palm Pre users would likely shift to Android when forced, but have no keyboardy devices any more to go to. Alas.

    • Agreed, the slide out is a win. If a Droid 5 appeared before Christmas this year, I would buy it immediately.

      • All the signs are that you’ll get your wish. Droid 4s are off the shelves in Verizon stores, which the employee I talked to said is a pretty sure sign of imminent release, it’s been progressively leaked (those aren’t accidental)- looks like they’re aiming for Thanksgiving and Black Friday. The same guy also said it would probably be introduced at $199 with contract.

        So you and I both. My Merge has served me well, but time to move to 4G.

  • You miss the point that a slide-out keyboard takes no “real estate” as it does on the blackberry. Palm & HP did a fantastic job of this but that's not a choice of the past too. I'm not convinced the industry knows if there's a market for it because old keyboard users have no ship to jump to. All those HP/Palm Pre users would likely shift to Android when forced, but have no keyboardy devices any more to go to. Alas.

    • Agreed, the slide out is a win. If a Droid 5 appeared before Christmas this year, I would buy it immediately.

      • All the signs are that you'll get your wish. Droid 4s are off the shelves in Verizon stores, which the employee I talked to said is a pretty sure sign of imminent release, it's been progressively leaked (those aren't accidental)- looks like they're aiming for Thanksgiving and Black Friday. The same guy also said it would probably be introduced at $199 with contract.

        So you and I both. My Merge has served me well, but time to move to 4G.

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