Users won't care about iPhone keyboard usability

Users won't care about iPhone keyboard usability

Summary: Each time I look at something related to the iPhone, I keep coming back to one aspect of the device I don't like - the onscreen keyboard.

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TOPICS: Apple, iPhone, Mobility
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Each time I look at something related to the iPhone, I keep coming back to one aspect of the device I don't like - the onscreen keyboard.  As much as I think that the glass-topped software-powered keyboard on the iPhone looks cool, I keep coming back the one thing that's important about a keyboard to me - usability.  iPhoneDo I think that the iPhone's keyboard is going to be an efficient input device?  No.  Is this going to mean that Apple is going to have a hard time selling iPhones?  Probably not.

Selling someone their first iPhone is going to be easier than selling them an upgrade in a couple of yearsFor me, the main point of a keyboard is to allow me to input data quickly and efficiently.  I don't like the idea of screwing around with a critical input device just for the sake of simplification and making it cool.  The trade-off just isn't worth it.  You can have the best, coolest, most fully-featured device in the world, but if you can't get information into it, it's really nothing more than a fancy paperweight.  For me, any company that claims to have come up with a new, innovative, easy to use keyboard on the first attempt makes me wary.  When I need to pay $500+ and sign-up to a 2 year contract to discover just how easy to use that revolutionary new system is, it's a total deal-breaker.  Pass, I'll wait and see what the next version has to offer.  That's why I can still be excited about the technology crammed into the iPhone and yet at the same time give it a wide berth.

But will the lack of a usable keyboard on the iPhone cripple Apple's dream gadget?  No, it won't.  Why?  Because the people who will be the early adopters are buying a feeling they've been sold.  I remember the owner of a publishing company once telling me that they could happily ship out books where everything past the first chapter was replaced by a block of styrofoam and most people wouldn't notice (and it would be profitable, even if they had to overnight a proper book to everyone who complained).  Folks in the publishing industry know that many of their customers never read past the first chapter.  Folks in the cellphone industry know that many of their customers never use anything other than the most basic of features on their cellphone. 

A great many of those who become early adopters of the iPhone will be buying it because of the Apple logo and the marketing hype.  Just like the book could be mostly styrofoam, the iPhone's interface could be mostly made up of placeholders and screenshots mockups and I'm certain that many wouldn't notice or care. John C. Dvorak claims to have an insider tip that as many as 20% of iPhones will be returned because of the keyboard.  I don't believe it.  The iPhone is going to be another Apple success (not on the scale of 10 million in a year - Steve might have to do some explaining to stockholders on that one later ...) but it'll be a success nonetheless.  What might be a far more serious problem for Apple is keeping the momentum going.  Selling someone their first iPhone is going to be easier than selling them an upgrade in a couple of years.

There is, however, a certain "Apple logic" behind the iPhone's keyboard.  From a stylistic perspective, the use of an on-screen software keyboard means that the iPhone can be sleek and simple.  Apple hates having too many buttons on anything.  The on-screen keyboard means fewer physical buttons.  From a functionality point of view, no physical keyboard means that the iPhone can have a larger screen (although for anything but the most basic web surfing, it's still too small).

Thoughts?

Topics: Apple, iPhone, Mobility

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  • The iPhone is for graphics designers....

    ... and others who think that "cool" is more important than "useful".

    Ever see a website that a graphic designer has been let loose on? All graphics, probably Flash, and never more than about six words on the whole page. It is all about impressing the user, not about telling them anything useful. Google indexing? Who cares as long as it *looks* good????

    For those for whom this is the epitome of "cool", they'll buy iPhones as fas as lemmings go over a cliff and with the same amount of forethought.
    bportlock
    • Cool doesn't enter into it

      Read my post below, you, like Adrian, have completely missed the point of the interface. Just because you don't understand something, that doesn't mean you should find it threatening and lash out at it. Instead, why not investigate it, and try to understand the real motivations behind the virtual keyboard. Hint: it's about having multiple interfaces for multiple activities on a convergence device.
      tic swayback
    • Captures the imagination doesn't it?

      Let's face it, those same graphics designers keep the world interesting and give us such creations as the Matrix. I gotta admit that I dread a world filled with text editors and command lines, and No, the solution IS NOT the GUI!

      I recently purchased a digital editing suite and spent an hour cutting, editing, and mixing to create ~60 seconds worth of home video. I gotta admit it looks great, but I now have a new found appreciation for the effort that goes into "content creation."

      Plus you roundly criticize all graphic designers as hacks when the truth is that the really professional designers will create compelling art that complements the content rather than get in the way. These are the websites that have a polished professional look and sell a product/idea. Not many individuals consciously know the difference, but it's worth its weight in gold.
      Cornhead
      • No it doesn't

        [i]"Let's face it, those same graphics designers keep the world interesting "[/i]

        Huh???


        [i]"Plus you roundly criticize all graphic designers as hacks"[/i]

        I can only judge by those I've come across. They seem to be one step short of being OCD sufferers. Attention to *irrelevant* detail that borders on autistic whilst not seeming to realise that there's a bigger picture involved.


        [i]"the truth is that the really professional designers will create compelling art"[/i]

        Have you seen that design travesty that passes for the London 2012 Olympics logo? It does nothing for the Olympics but it might win them the adulation of their peers.



        [i]"These are the websites that have a polished professional look and sell a product/idea. Not many individuals consciously know the difference, but it's worth its weight in gold."[/i]

        Fair enough.
        bportlock
        • Too bad...

          [i]"I can only judge judge by those I've come across."[/i]

          Among behavioral psychologists, you suffer from representativeness bias. But before you criticize behavioral psychologists realize that the individuals who identified these judgment heuristics received a Nobel Prize in Economics for their work, unless you find the Nobel Prize distasteful as well.
          Cornhead
          • LOL! Touche!

            [i]"Among behavioral psychologists, you suffer from representativeness bias"[/i]

            Don't we all! If none of us suffered such things we would live in a perfect world free of racism and bias. Admittedly that would not be a bad thing, but we're all imperfectly human - especially on Friday afternoons!

            I hope you enjoy your creative endeavours and if you can improve on the London Olympic logo then please do so. If you fancy another challenge posed by a different poster, then make Audis look like cars.

            I will happily admit that some graphic designer must lack the near-crippling compulsions of those I have come across, since if engineers and scientists ruled the world, chairs would be bare metal and riveted together! Fair enough?



            [i]"But before you criticize behavioral psychologists realize that the individuals who identified these judgment heuristics received a Nobel Prize in Economics for their work, unless you find the Nobel Prize distasteful as well."[/i]

            I find the Nobel prizes good in concept but somewhat lacking in implementation. There have been instances of women not being awarded when they deserved it, students whose advisor won the prize for the student's work and out of a group of collabarators, not all of them get the prize.

            There is also something mildly ironic about a peace being funded from the legacy of a man who invented dynamite!
            bportlock
          • Discovering my inner non-engineer : )

            FWIW, I graduated summa cum laude with an engineering degree, so I am well acquainted with the nuts and bolts practicality of the engineering ethos.

            However, after many years I am starting to discover my inner non-engineer. It has been an interesting and delightful journey and to be honest I feel more human as a result. It has led me to being very impressed with Steve Jobs and Apple and the Adobe products (beyond Acrobat Reader).

            As for the Nobel Prize, it is not everyday that a psychologist wins one in Economics. How's that for implementation!
            Cornhead
          • Censored!

            Wow! My post got censored! How embarrassing!
            Cornhead
          • Good for you

            I'm glad you didn't get upset! It's Friday, I've got some dull stuff to do and I felt like a rant!
            bportlock
        • Attention to *irrelevant* detail = millions of dollars

          Do you have any idea how many millions of dollars are effected by that ?irrelevant detail??

          Do you have any idea of the hundreds and hundreds of interactions that take place between the client and the designer to get just the correct look ? to grab the customer eye ? to create public awareness ? to enforce the message of the product/service?

          Do you know that the graphics team might submit 50 ideas to a client, with an explanation of the strengths/weakness of each?

          Do you have any idea about the focus groups that used to judge those various ideas so as to get an idea of how the public will respond?

          Do you have any idea about the fact that the design needs the ability to be reproduced at virtually any size, for different media formats, at the same exact color, in various languages (without offending local custom) and still maintain full detail and message strength?

          So yeah, the graphics folks are concerned with minutiae that would never occur to you ? because millions and millions of dollars are dependent on the design ? and the clients know that.
          j.m.galvin
        • Once again...

          ...just because you don't understand something, that doesn't mean you should lash out at it. Because you've met a few graphic designers who you had personal problems with does not negate the value of good design. I would suggest learning more about the subject (the works of Edward Tufte would be a good starting point), rather than trying to dismiss an important field based on a few bad examples.
          tic swayback
    • Hmmm.... how do I respond?

      You obviously like to make grand assumptions and ridiculous charges. Who do you think designs most websites that meet your standards? Graphic designers! A good graphic designer creates the mock-up and then the code is implemented, along with all other technical provisions. And there are plenty of designers that do the coding and development also. How do you think an Audi is created? 100% all by the engineers? Of course not. The engineers take care of what's under the hood and the "designers" make the whole package look appealing to the market they are targeting. You obviously have little knowledge of the field where you are making your assertions. Good luck with that pessimistic and ignorant outlook you got there. It will get you far in life and admired by all of your peers.
      massiv_design
      • Whoo-hoo! Light the blue touch-paper and retire!

        [i]"You obviously like to make grand assumptions and ridiculous charges."[/i]

        Well - there's no point in making little niggly comments when you can have sweeping assumptions.... I mean, there's no comparison!


        [i]"How do you think an Audi is created?"[/i]

        On a production line - a chap called "Ford" invented it.



        [i]"100% all by the engineers? Of course not. The engineers take care of what's under the hood and the "designers" make the whole package look appealing to the market they are targeting"[/i]

        You gotta be kidding me! You think an Audi looks "stylish"? It's a tank of a car. A brick with a wheel at each corner!
        bportlock
        • The point still stands.

          Who cares what car we are referring too. The basis of my argument was not around the Audi itself but the process of its development. One's preference of the aesthetics of an automobile is purely subjective. Am I wrong? Your response further proves your inability to look beyond your own self-importance. Thanks for the help in my argument. =)

          I am done now. You have wasted too much of my time as it is.
          massiv_design
        • re: Whoo-hoo! Light the blue touch-paper and retire!

          bportlock:

          "You obviously like to make grand assumptions and ridiculous charges."

          "Well - there's no point in making little niggly comments when you can have sweeping assumptions.... I mean, there's no comparison!"

          Absolutely! And you made my day with that comment!


          "How do you think an Audi is created?"

          "On a production line - a chap called "Ford" invented it."

          Close, but no cigar. Henry didn't invent the production line, he made it work efficiently for his purposes.


          "You gotta be kidding me! You think an Audi looks "stylish"? It's a tank of a car. A brick with a wheel at each corner!"

          I find Audis to be relatively attractive. OTOH, I find the current BMW line to be relatively unattractive. Chris Bangle should be put up against a wall and shot. But then, what do I know? I think the Chrysler 300 is a handsome car...for a brick with a wheel at each corner.

          :)
          M.R. Kennedy
    • Uninformed

      I don't know what graphic designers you work with but that's the description of a BAD designer, just as bad as a developer that write's bloated code and thinks as long as it works somehow its okay. Good design is when form and function melt together, not your view of adding gratuitous elements to heighten the cool factor.
      GardeAvant
  • Imagine that!

    "Folks in the cellphone industry know that many of their customers never use anything other than the most basic of features on their cellphone."

    Who'd have thought that people would just use their phone as a phone? For those people, having a graphical vs physical keyboard is irrelevant. All they want to do is dial numbers, and the virtual keyboard will work just fine.

    For those that use their phones for everything under the sun, the virtual keys may be something of a hindrance, but not significantly more than using the physical keys.

    In short, the iPhone's virtual keys will be no less usable than the current physical keys found on phones now, and may be something of an improvement.
    Letophoro
    • Pretending this is something new

      [i]For those that use their phones for everything under the sun, the virtual keys may be something of a hindrance, but not significantly more than using the physical keys.[/i]

      Everyone seems to forget that Apple is not the one to have innovated the virtual keyboard. My 4 year old PocketPC has a virtual keyboard and there is [b]no[/b] way anyone could use it to type as fast as I've seen people type on their physical keyboards... not even close. Oh right, the Apple keyboard will be different... because it's Apple... YEAH!

      [i]In short, the iPhone's virtual keys will be no less usable than the current physical keys found on phones now, and may be something of an improvement.[/i]

      Not for typing it won't. I'm a fan of virtual keyboards because it gives me the biggest screen possible in the smallest package possible but the reality distortion field doesn't affect me so much that I'd [b]ever[/b] suggest the virtual keyboard is an improvement on the physical keyboard when it comes to data entry. The Cult is strong in you!
      NonZealot
      • What are you blathering on about?

        "Everyone seems to forget that Apple is not the one to have innovated the virtual keyboard. My 4 year old PocketPC has a virtual keyboard and there is no way anyone could use it to type as fast as I've seen people type on their physical keyboards... not even close. Oh right, the Apple keyboard will be different... because it's Apple... YEAH!"

        How are virtual keys going to be any worse than pressing '6' three times to get an 'o' into a word? Your comparison of PC keyboard to a virtual keyboard is not relevant since that is not the topic under discussion. It's phone keypads to virtual keys that you should be comparing. Is it worse to press a virtual '6' instead of a physical '6'?

        "Not for typing it won't. I'm a fan of virtual keyboards because it gives me the biggest screen possible in the smallest package possible but the reality distortion field doesn't affect me so much that I'd ever suggest the virtual keyboard is an improvement on the physical keyboard when it comes to data entry."

        Did I say it was an improvement? No, I didn't. I said it [i]may[/i] be an improvement. The only way to find out is to try the thing and see if it's better or worse than using the keypad on your current cell phone. Better or worse, I wouldn't use a phone keypad or a virtual keypad or a virtual keyboard to do any serious typing. That's what keyboards are for.

        "The Cult is strong in you!"
        I'd ask what cult that is, but history has shown what your belief system is. Basically, your position is: "If you don't pathologically hate everything Apple makes and does, then you're an Apple zealot."
        Letophoro
        • I see why people think the iPhone is innovative

          they obviously haven't used a cell phone in the last 10 years.

          [i]How are virtual keys going to be any worse than pressing '6' three times to get an 'o' into a word?[/i]

          Tegic's T9 (or equivalent) which is on most phones now allow you to type 4-3-5-5-6 to get 'hello'. It is very good and I've seen people get amazing WPM out of them. T9 was released in 1995 so you are about 12 years out of date.

          [i]Your comparison of PC keyboard to a virtual keyboard is not relevant[/i]

          Had I been comparing it to a PC keyboard, you would have a point. I don't know if you've heard of a little company called RIM and a little product called Blackberry. It has a full, physical keyboard on it and [b]that[/b] is what I was comparing the virtual keyboard to. Again, people get incredible WPM out of them. If you want a bigger keyboard in a phone that is smaller than the iPhone (that thing is going to be [b]huge[/b]), check out phones like the [url=http://www.htc.com/product/03-product_s710.htm] S710 [/url] or the [url=http://www.htc.com/product/03-product_p4350.htm] P4350 [/url] which both have larger keyboards that slide out sideways. The iPhone simply can't compete.

          [i]Better or worse, I wouldn't use a phone keypad or a virtual keypad or a virtual keyboard to do any serious typing. That's what keyboards are for.[/i]

          Yes, so ditch the iPhone and buy an HTC... unless of course this suddenly isn't such a big requirement? Apple zealots are usually pretty quick to arbitrarily change their requirements as they are made aware of superior non-Apple alternatives.
          NonZealot