Keyboards may be gradually losing out to touchscreens, voice control, and gesture recognition (while continuing to habour disagreeable detritus), but they're not going away soon, even as more workers use tablets.
Standalone tablets have largely been seen as devices for consuming content, for watching movies and surfing the web, rather than as content creation tools. Adding a physical keyboard is one way to make tablets enterprise-friendly and better suited to tasks that require more user input, such as writing memos and editing spreadsheets.
Analyst group Forrester said that while the bulk of tablets used by information workers offer "distinctly touch-first experiences", two thirds of workers believe they would benefit from using a keyboard with their tablet — at least part time — for word processing, email, and when using custom apps developed by their employers.
The analyst's survey found that workers' top choice is a tablet with a keyboard, which effectively turns it into a small laptop: with more than a third (35 percent) of information workers favouring this design.
In the Apple ecosystem it's vendors such as Logitech and Zagg that can give the iPad this option, while in the Windows world this might point you to the Surface tablet or Lenovo's ThinkPad Tablet 2 with Bluetooth keyboard.
Forrester notes: "Interest in this laptop mimicking keyboard scenario parallels today's cannibalization data, as 35 percent of information workers who use tablets for work report using their laptop less often already."
A slightly smaller group of workers (27 percent) said they prefer a wireless keyboard, with Forrester noting that Samsung offers a full-size keyboard accessory for use with its Galaxy Tab line, while Apple's Bluetooth keyboard also fits the bill.
About a third of workers want to stick with touch only – so long as they can use a computer for work that requires lots of typing: with 34 percent agreeing they would "rather just use a regular tablet without a keyboard and use a computer for tasks that require a lot of typing".
While keyboards aren't the essential tool they once were, they aren't going to disappear anytime soon, said Forrester analyst JP Gownder: "Some classes of workers who use tablets — for example, retail associates working in stores — might never need an accessory keyboard. But for information workers specifically, having the flexibility of a keyboard will continue to matter for the next decade."
The research was based on a survey of 1,070 North American and European information workers.