Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

Summary: Pundits are willing to declare the PC on the way out, and the tablet taking over. Convincing the majority of the marketplace to lose the keyboard may be a lot harder than folks realize.

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The post-PC era may be underway, but that means different things to mainstream consumers than it does for tech-savvy folks. Many think the conventional PC is on the way out, both desktops and laptops, in favor of the popular tablet. If that is indeed what defines a post-PC era, then in simpler terms it means losing the keyboard in favor of touch screens. Therein lies the rub, as that pesky keyboard may prove harder to ditch than pundits realize.

My recent analysis concerning how few folks can go all-in with tablets has generated a lot of interest. Some folks believe the physical keyboard is not important, as some people don't create a lot of content. There is some truth in that, but many still need to create content, either personal or for work. While onscreen keyboards on tablets are actually pretty good, they cannot replace the old QWERTY standby for pounding out lots of text.

Tablets can easily be paired with physical keyboards for heavy lifting in the content creation department. I do it myself almost every day. I have the best of both worlds with this arrangement-- convenience of the tablet most of the time, and ability to get busy with text entry when needed. I wouldn't trade this setup for the world, it works so well for me, but for average users this is beyond what they are willing to do.

See also: Evernote: Secret weapon for writing anywhereTypical day in the life of the iPad 25 good productivity apps for the iPad 2; Evernote for iPad: Latest update broke wireless keyboard support

The techie crowd sees the benefit of my method for using the tablet, that is not in question. These are the same folks already ordering the ASUS Transformer Prime due out next month. A tablet plus a keyboard is as good for the tech-savvy crowd as it is for me.

The problems are "real" users, the mainstream consumer who wants things as simple as possible, do not like multiple components to do what they need to do. Through many conversations with this group, they have made it clear to me they don't mind having both a notebook and a tablet to do everything they want to do. When it comes to simply using the tablet and a physical keyboard, I get a resounding "NO!" They comment favorably about my own iPad 2/ Logitech Keyboard Case combo, but are adamant that's too much trouble for them.

An external keyboard requires having a second piece along with the tablet. While some keyboard models handle this by becoming a case for the tablet, folks tell me they do not like this arrangement. On top of having to deal with a second gadget, they would also have a second gizmo to keep charged. This seems to be the major deal breaker, as consumers already have to deal with keeping phones and tablets charged. It seems like such a minor thing to me, but these conversations with regular people tell me it's a big deal to many of them. Throw in the inability to use these wireless keyboards during flights and it is game over.

While it's easy to get past the lack of a keyboard on tablets, I am convinced it is not something the many are willing to do yet. I suspect the laptop isn't going away any time soon, and not until a solution to deal with that missing keyboard comes along that is palatable for tablet owners.

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Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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49 comments
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  • RE: Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

    I use my tablet a lot and find it pretty easy to find keyboards no matter where I am to just plug in and use. Having full size usb port allows me to use mulitple usb devices so it really acts somewhat like a laptop dock.

    At home I have keyboard and mouse at my desk and anytime I need to do some intensive content creation I can do so pretty easily and at no cost to me. Do not have to pay for peripherals.

    Couldn't make full use of tablet though without keyboard for real work (even if this real work is limited by what you can do on a tablet).
    heathman
  • RE: Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

    I have a Nook Color and I understand it has the Bluetooth chip inside. Any word on when we might see a portable keyboard for the NC?
    Roger Downey
    • RE: Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

      @Roger Downey
      The NookColor has a wireless chip that is bluetooth capable. B&N has not enabled it but CyanogenMod has it working albiet with a limited range. A bluetooth keyboard will work but only if you're running the CM release. AFAIK, B&N could enable it but they presently have no apps that could use it. I hear a new B&N update is coming soon.
      Mac Hosehead
  • RE: Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

    The solution to this will be Windows 8!
    jatbains
    • RE: Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

      @jatbains I fail to see how software can overcome a hardware problem.

      You see, tablets aren't serious computing devices. IMO, the ASUS Transformer (and other tablets like it) are a waste of cash if you want something that can actually accomplish some task.

      Because Android, iOS, and the others out there AREN'T work-quality OSs.
      They're good for short stuff, but it's still like tapping on a windowpane. Plus, resting your hand on the device gives you errant letters.

      Windows 8, while it will probably be decent (if you have a touch-capable device, that is), won't solve the problem of tablets being toys. Tossing an x86 processor in is a step in the right direction, but without a keyboard you aren't doing any real work, and so are immediately better off with Android/iOS. And on what devices do those OSs ship? You guessed it- ARM toys.

      Dual-booting isn't a solution yet either, because the devices and storage are too slow. 30 seconds is too slow. 15 seconds is also too slow. 10 seconds is starting to get there. For perspective, the iPad 2 boots in 24 seconds.


      But why don't they just put the keyboard on the back? It's not the easiest solution to learn (since you have to do everything by touch) but once you have it down it would be easier to use. That still doesn't solve the fact that that's more like a standard phone keyboard, but it's a solution in one piece.

      But that brings us back around to where we started.
      R220
      • Augmenting Touch Computing With Keyboards

        luckyducky7@...,

        An important point about using a keyboard, is that it works best in touch computing, when it is on the same plane as the screen. I personally think most people will migrate over to a typing paradigm, where they type and pick off words / phrases from word prediction engines. E.g. a word / phrase prediction engine could, among other things, analyze a user's body of work, along with his current work, and anticipate the words he is about the type. It would then be a matter of the user picking off whole words and phrases, in order to quickly compose the text he is creating.

        For those who like doing straight typing, large touch screens could have physical keyboards integrated at the bottom of the screens. OEMs could come out with retractable designs, keyboards which flip over into place, keyboards which can be easily attached and removed, or keyboards which are simply built into the displays. The above range of designs, should satisfy people's differing requirements. As for tablets, a similar approach could be taken. E.g. in addition to having convertible models which switch between a tablet configuration and a laptop configuration, OEMs could come with tablets that have retractable physical keyboards which slide in and out of the tablets, which allow the user to type quickly while remaining in tablet mode - eschewing the regular, old GUI mode, for metro apps. Another tablet design, could have the vertical dimension of the tablet increased to support a virtual keyboard, while having more screen space for people's work. (Many ARM based tablet could adopt the last 2 designs.)

        Windows 8, coupled with the above designs, could therefore push touch computing forward, while addressing the keyboard issue.
        P. Douglas
      • RE: Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

        @luckyducky7@...

        What are you classing as 'real work'?

        'They're good for short stuff'. Indeed! So for those on the move, marking up reports, reviewing spreadsheets, giving presentations, writing emails, researching on the web they're ideal, and far from 'toys'.

        James goes on about choosing devices that 'meet your needs' and when deciding on a tablet for your 'serious computing' then it's not for you, or anyone else, to make blanket statements about how well they meet those needs for an individual.
        gavmiller
      • RE: Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

        @luckyducky7:

        Re: " ... tablets being toys."

        You hit the nail right on the head. Tablets are useless inbetween devices that are neither laptops nor smartphones.
        cardhun
      • RE: Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

        @gavmiller:

        "Real work" for me includes developing system software architecture and design in Rose, Tau, or Rhapsody; modeling in MATLAB or Mathematica; and working on Excel spreadsheets with 8,000 cells or more.
        cardhun
    • RE: Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

      @jatbains Indeed. How would Windows 8 solve this issue? You ARE aware that the issue is that the average tablet user who is getting a tablet to replace a PC (used as a generic term i.e. Mac or Windows based Personal Computer) does not want to have to carry a separate keyboard for their tablet right? You did read the article? If you meant that Windows 8 would include an on screen touch keyboard that is already covered with every mobile smartphone and tablet OS out there.
      athynz
      • RE: Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

        @Pete "athynz" Athens You are missing what Windows 8 will bring. You can have a fully functional tablet that you can pair with a bluetooth keyboard at any time to give you access to traditional desktop applications.

        The point is there will not be a compromise between a tablet and laptop experience.
        jatbains
      • They don't understand ANY part of No

        There! See that? People who today will give you a resounding "NO!" with regards to carry-along keyboards will -- once Windows 8 comes out -- suddenly embrace them. Birds will sing. Rainbows will appear. You just don't understand what Windows 8 will bring.
        Robert Hahn
      • RE: Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

        @Pete "athynz" Athens Why can't he just leave the keyboard at his desk and pair them when required? Why lug it around????
        jatbains
      • RE: Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

        @jatbains [b]You are missing what Windows 8 will bring. You can have a fully functional tablet that you can pair with a bluetooth keyboard at any time to give you access to traditional desktop applications.[/b]

        No, I'm not missing what Windows 8 will bring to a tablet - in fact I fully understand what it will bring but that is not the point of this article. One CAN pair a bluetooth keyboard with the currently available tablet offerings but that still does not satisfy the average user according to the original article. The average user according to the original article sees a bluetooth keyboard as something else to carry around - personally I would have no issues carrying a bluetooth keyboard with a Windows 8 tablet as the combo would be a lot lighter than my HP Pavilion laptop running Windows 7.[b]

        The point is there will not be a compromise between a tablet and laptop experience.[/b]

        Like I said above I understand but that is not the focus of this article. [b]

        Why can't he just leave the keyboard at his desk and pair them when required? Why lug it around????[/b]

        I don't think the author has any issues lugging around a bluetooth keyboard and as I indicated I certainly do not however the average user would - at least according to the original article. Perhaps it would help if I posted the pertinent part of the article: [i]

        The problems are ???real??? users, the mainstream consumer who wants things as simple as possible, do not like multiple components to do what they need to do. Through many conversations with this group, they have made it clear to me they don???t mind having both a notebook and a tablet to do everything they want to do. When it comes to simply using the tablet and a physical keyboard, I get a resounding ???NO!??? They comment favorably about my own iPad 2/ Logitech Keyboard Case combo, but are adamant that???s too much trouble for them.[/i]
        athynz
    • Why? Does it ship with a keyboard?

      @jatbains
      William Farrell
      • RE: Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

        @William Farrell You can add a keyboard at any time. Along with voice, gesture (kinect) etc. there will be a wide variety of input mechanisms.
        jatbains
  • True Solution is a Little Ways Out

    There are some interesting ideas out there. I believe I saw a report where a keyboard was drawn on a surface using colored light, and sensors of some kind figured out where your fingers were hitting the surface. Very far from production, though, I'd say. Making something like the iPad2's screen protector double as a keyboard when taken off might do something - or any quality foldable keyboard that can be stored as part of the gadget, though that's still a little clunky. I've not been too fond of the convertible PCs, although they do solve this to a degree.

    BTW - one more reason I love Windows 7's handwriting on my slate.
    WebSiteManager
  • RE: Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

    If touchscreens weren't so shit then I'd have no problem going without a keyboard, but they're just NOT up to speed in my opinion. FAR from it in fact!
    banksy100
  • RE: Getting past the missing keyboard on tablets

    At least there are options for external keyboards but what about output such as... PRINTING! Sure you can get a cloud enabled printer, or run Google cloud on a PC (which of course has to be powered on and booted), but very few Android or iPad apps actually have a native print function. The best you get is export to pdf, then you locate the pdf (wherever it was stored) and manually cloud-print it.

    Luckyducky7 has it right. Tablet OS's are far too limited to make them serious computing devices, and trying to print from one is just one glaring example of this fact.
    predmond
  • It's not just the keyboard - it's everything!

    A 22" wonderful sharp clear monitor, the Cherry clicky keyboard which makes typing so positive, a decent mouse running on a quality mouse-mat (I love Sun's). These are the things that make computing so nice.
    I guess people fall into two camps. Even if I was on the road, I'd take a large laptop, and never, ever, a tablet.
    peter_erskine