QWERTY phones: Thumbs-up or down?

Moderated by Larry Dignan | August 5, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: QWERTY phones historically have been seen as devices for real work and productivity. Does that case still hold?

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Thumbs-up

or

Thumbs-down

Matthew Miller

Matthew Miller

Best Argument: Thumbs-up

80%
20%

Audience Favored: Thumbs-up (80%)

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Welcome back to our Great Debate series

    This week's debaters are Matthew Miller and Adrian Kingsley-Hughes. Are you ready?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Yes, I am

    How about you Matthew?

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Thumbs-up

    I'm prepared

    Let's get this underway.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Thumbs-down

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Does QWERTY still work?

    QWERTY phones historically have been seen as devices for real work and productivity. Does that case still hold?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    The tide is turning

    Once QWERTY handsets were the flagship smartphone design.  It seemed like nothing could dethrone them.

    The tide is certainly changing, thanks mostly to the iPhone. That said, despite owning an iPhone for years (and an iPad, and a whole raft of touchscreen devices), my typing is still faster on smartphones that have a physical keyboard.

    You just can't beat the tactile feel of pressing down a real key! All-glass smartphones may be stylish, but in terms of input speed they still have a long way to go.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Thumbs-up

    Screen size matters

    I agree that most QWERTY phones were BlackBerry devices and were considered the enterprise choice. However, the iPhone started the touch screen revolution and I feel that my productivity is better with a larger touch screen device. I, and many others, associate work and productivity more today with viewable screen size and available applications.

    QWERTY phones were also historically considered to be more rugged and durable than full glass touch screens. Technology advances in glass, especially as related to Corning's Gorilla Glass products, have removed some of the worry related to touch screen phones. Case designs also give people peace of mind and QWERTY is no longer the standard for real work.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Thumbs-down

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Rough touches

    What failings do touch screen keyboards have today?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Screen limits

    There are a few things that I consider to be weak points:

    • Inconsistent screen layout (even between landscape and portrait mode on some devices) means that users have to relearn the layout
    • The way that some characters are so well hidden in the keyboard layout that finding a much needed ampersand or a hash can take minutes on some keyboards
    • No tactile feedback, making them a major pain since you're literally just touching a sheet of glass

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Thumbs-up

    An acquired taste

    No matter how good touch screen keyboards are, there is still a segment that want the physical feedback and response of a QWERTY keyboard. I used to be a die hard QWERTY keyboard user and liked pressing buttons, but now I prefer Android solutions where I slide my finger around on the display and let the magic of predictive text take over.

    For a few years, touch screen keyboards were useless in cold weather and in inclement environments. Nokia solved that with their super sensitive displays that let you enter text even with gloves on.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Thumbs-down

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Must haves

    What would you like to see added to touch screen keyboard technology?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Tactile senations

    The one technology that I'd like to see make it to on-screen keyboards is haptic, otherwise known as force-feedback. This would give users some form of tactile sensation when the key is pressed, and would dramatically increase both performance and accuracy.

    Another feature I'd like to see improve is predictive text input.  The best way to improve data entry speeds is by not having to enter the data. I think that apps such as Swype and SwiftKey for the Android platforms are both steps in the right direction, but still have a long way to go.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Thumbs-up

    Predictive text, bigger targets

    I know some people have trouble tapping a touch screen keyboard on the proper targets. I would like to see a keyboard that combines predictive text with larger targets. For example, if I wanted to enter the word "BlackBerry" I could tap b-l-a on the standard keyboard and then candidate letters that I might tap next would appear on the screen in double or triple the size. The word would also appear larger above the keyboard to hopefully make predictive text entry faster and more efficient.

    Haptic feedback has been added, but I turn that off on my phones as I find it annoying more than anything. I don't think physical tactile feedback can really be added to a touch screen, but maybe there is something I am missing.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Thumbs-down

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Voice recognition

    Is it possible that voice recognition will make both QWERTY and touch keyboards moot?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    A long ways away

    It may do, but it is still a ways away.

    The promise that voice recognition will free us from our dependence on the keyboard has been dangled in our faces for almost two decades. And while technology has undoubtedly come forwards in leaps and bounds over the past few years - partly thanks to the shift from local processing of the voice files to cloud processing - the technology is a long way off from being able to allow us to do away with the keyboard.

    When the likes of Apple and Google are having a tough time bringing proper voice recognition to market, you know it's a tough nut to crack.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Thumbs-up

    It has a future

    I don't think so. Voice recognition has vastly improved with Siri, Google Now, and Windows Phones recognition engines, but I think it is better for conducting searches, finding destinations, and other quick tasks. I have never been able to dictate to my PC or phone for extended periods of time and am not sold that it is worth it for most people. Of course, those who are unable to enter text physically will see a benefit, but that is not who I am talking about here.

    Voice recognition is also not a viable option for people like me who commute on public transportation or who work in a quiet, focused office environment

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Thumbs-down

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The demand

    How big can the market for QWERTY phones be and will it always be niche?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    The end of QWERTY is near

    Just as compact cameras are ousting dSLRs, and smartphones are replacing in-car GPS receivers, touchscreen devices are replacing devices that have keyboards. Not only are the devices easier and cheaper to manufacture, they are now what is seen as 'modern.' And after all, as far as most smartphone owners are concerned, their smartphone is a content consumption device, not a content creation platform, which means that a good keyboard is secondary to a large screen.

    As such, this is kicking QWERTY-based systems to the curb. And unless Apple adds a keyboard to the iPhone (which is just not going to happen), the days of QWERTY are limited.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Thumbs-up

    Smaller expectations

    The market is very limited and will always be niche. BlackBerry has developed QWERTY hardware as far as it can go and there is really no further improvements or optimization to make.

    I think we can probably look at BB Q10 sales and get a good idea as to the market size. I do think it can be successful as long as the market expectations are understood and success is defined within reason.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Thumbs-down

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Living together?

    Is there a market for touch screen and QWERTY phones or does the dual input get too screwy over time?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    No room

    The problem is space.

    How do you fit a large screen and a keyboard onto a single device? Maybe a hybrid system along the lines of the old Nokia 9000i, where the clamshell design hid a keyboard might make a reappearance.

    Current designs – such as the Blackberry Q10 – are interesting, and offer a glimmer of hope to those looking for a decent keyboard.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Thumbs-up

    Better to stick with one or the other

    I've tried various touch/QWERTY combo devices in the past and am not a fan of jumping between primary input methods. I struggle with this on my Surface Pro a bit and find the experience is better if I just stick with a keyboard session or a tablet/touch session rather than mixing input methods.

    There are generally too many sacrifices (such as smaller screen and portrait only orientation) when a QWERTY is placed on a phone with a touch screen. I rarely use the touch screen on the Q10 and would prefer to have a trackpad added to the keyboard with the touchscreen removed.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Thumbs-down

  • Great Debate Moderator

    When is QWERTY better?

    What work can be done on a QWERTY that can't on a touch screen?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Never

    Shortcuts are better on a QWERTY, including those for quick text input, launching applications, and managing wireless connections. I can't think of anything else and am interested in hearing what my opponent comes up with.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Thumbs-up

    Taking shortcuts

    Shortcuts are better on a QWERTY, including those for quick text input, launching applications, and managing wireless connections. I can't think of anything else and am interested in hearing what my opponent comes up with.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Thumbs-down

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The great race

    Is there a speed and accuracy advantage with QWERTY?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    QWERTY wins

    Absolutely, or at least I think so!

    I think as with most things it varied from person to person, but I've not seen anyone be as fast or as versatile with a touchscreen as people were with keypads. My daughter could type a text message on her QWERTY smartphone while it was still in her pocket!

    Now that was pretty cool!

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Thumbs-up

    Touch by a nose

    I used to think there was, but with the advanced predictive technologies I find I am faster on a touch screen than a QWERTY. You can also use a touch screen device with one hand, where QWERTY devices require a two thumb approach to be most efficient.

    The previous advantage with QWERTY devices may also be related to the fact that so many people used QWERTY and with practice became proficient.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Thumbs-down

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Q10's future

    The sales projections from analysts regarding the Q10 have been mixed. How do you think Q10 will sell over time?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Tough road ahead

    It's hard to tell. With iOS and Android capturing so much attention, it's hard to see how outliers such as Blackberry and Nokia can carve up a market. While analysts may be happy to make guesses I think that only time will tell.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Thumbs-up

    Passed its peak

    I think we have seen Q10 sales as high as they are going to go. It is the best QWERTY device available today and we may see it remain steady as those using low end QWERTY smartphones or feature phones make the move to a BlackBerry smartphone.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Thumbs-down

  • Great Debate Moderator

    QWERTY's staying power in emerging markets

    QWERTY phones appear to be more popular in emerging markets. Do you think that trend will hold?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Subject to change

    For now, yes. However, this could well change as Apple spreads the iPhone to new territories, and also as full-screen Android smartphones drop in price.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Thumbs-up

    QWERTY is cheaper

    Devices like the Nokia Asha are likely successful because of the Nokia name and low cost. I am not sure if the QWERTY versions are popular because that is what is offered or if QWERTY is desired. As I stated earlier, QWERTY devices are a bit more robust than full touch screen phones, especially when you look at the low cost QWERTY devices.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Thumbs-down

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Does the enterprise care about QWERTY?

    Last question: Does the enterprise care about QWERTY any more? Why?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    NO

    Since the decline of the Blackberry, unfortunately no.

    Handsets featuring QWERTY keyboards are considered old, stuffy, and corporate. People want sleek and modern smartphones, and businesses are more than happy to let them use their own devices at work as the popularity of BYOD  continues to increase.

    No one ever said that ergonomic design was fashionable!

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Thumbs-up

    More worried about apps

    I don't think the enterprise cares much about QWERTY since they are more concerned about the availability of apps and services that let people get their work done on the go. So many people are now bringing their own smartphone to work with iPhone and Android devices being the primary choices. Within these offerings there are rugged solutions or cases that protect the devices.

    QWERTY ruled the enterprise before the iPhone, but Apple changed the perception of touch screen devices and I doubt many will take a step back to the QWERTY world again.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for Thumbs-down

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thanks again for joining us

    Things to come: Closing statements from the debaters will be published on Wednesday and my choice for the winner will be posted on Thursday.

    I'm sure you'll enjoy reading the comments below and please add yours. Plus, don't forget to vote. Adrian and Matthew espcecially will appreciate that, as long as you take their side.

    Posted by Larry Dignan

Talkback

37 comments
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  • QWERTY is the layout of the keys . . .

    "While QWERTY might be considered by some to be old, slow and inefficient,"

    Mostly because "slow and inefficient" is easy to say. Most of this appears to boil down to personal preference and the cost of re-training to use a new system.

    Although I have my doubts that sliding a single finger could actually be faster than touch typing, which many people can actually do very quickly.

    That being said, we're talking about phones here, and QWERTY is admittedly a bit clumsy on a small form factor. But different people have different hands, so your mileage may vary.

    "QWERTY was designed for two-handed PC keyboards and is not a system optimized for the mobile phone."

    Actually, that's false. QWERTY was not designed for the PC. It's far older than that: It was designed for typewriters.

    The fact that smart phones still use the format is a testament to how solid the design actually is. Even though alternatives to it were invented because the jamming problem doesn't exist in PCs or smart phones, alternative layouts only offered marginal benefits and the cost of re-training touch typists to use the new layouts was (and still is) too high.

    "The only high end smartphone today with a QWERTY is the new BlackBerry Q10"

    Well, even though the keyboard on most phones is on-screen rather than physical - it's still QWERTY.

    QWERTY is the layout of the keys, not a catch-phrase meant to mean "physical keyboard." A software-based keyboard can certainly use a QWERTY layout, and most do.

    Which actually makes the title for this article somewhat misleading :/.
    CobraA1
    Reply 5 Votes I'm Undecided
    • I prefer QWERTY myself

      'cause using it, i can type as fast as i can make mistakes.
      Not so with any other layout. But that's me.
      I don't know, but i suspect that some schools are teaching alternative layouts along with QWERTY, and I'm betting that that QWERTY will slowly fade out of the picture as us stick-in-the-muds die off.
      Papa_Bill
      Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
      • Didn't really happen.

        "and I'm betting that that QWERTY will slowly fade out of the picture as us stick-in-the-muds die off."

        There's been plenty of chances for this to happen (as I said - as old as the typewriter) - but it didn't really happen.

        Kids are still being trained to use QWERTY at an early age. So as old people die off, new youngsters are still learning it. Which makes sense, since nearly all devices use the layout. But that does mean it's essentially self-perpetuating.

        I'm not really seeing any schools teach the alternative layouts. They may mention other layouts to make students aware of them, but since QWERTY is so much the standard that you can't really work without using it, they have to teach QWERTY.
        CobraA1
        Reply Vote I'm Undecided
    • My wife has long fingernails

      So in her case a physical keyboard is better. Matt Miller is a Microsoft MVP, and an"Invited member of Microsoft's mobile Evangelists", So for him Microsoft's decision will always be best. It comes down to the best tool, or Matt's personal Bias.
      Troll Hunter J
      Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
    • the title for this article somewhat misleading

      i agree with CobraA1. however, swiping on a qwerty layout is still not using a qwerty keyboard...your only using a few letters, and by the time you see the word you want to spell, you could have already spelled it and moved on....just because the letters are arranged the same, does not always mean the keyboard is as useful as the alternative methods, swipe is designed to skip less used letters based on the direction your fingers are going (if the word is in your dictionary, otherwise you still have to spell out the whole word). its not truely based on the qwerty definition. they just simply have the same letters in the same places for familiarity to the user. the idea behind the qwerty keyboard in the first place was to place the keys that are used most frequently in a specific order for ease on the fingers while typing, thus no other layout has been as successful. the qwerty was designed scientifically and comfortably without loss of thought for what your typing. there is a reason why it has been used for this long. the only other system thats faster is the court typing systems. and that takes many years to master for the expert typer, being lazy is not an excuse to switch to another keyboard on your smart device.
      jokerkmk@...
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • DOWN

    Get Rid of Donald Trumps Ugly face from "You May Also Like"
    sightsandsounds
    Reply 4 Votes I'm for Thumbs-down
  • I am a thumbs-up on this one!

    I truly miss the physical keyboard of my old BlackBerry - but, as Matthew points out, the cost in smartphone screen real estate is just too high. Today I'd have a slide-out keyboard if anyone made one running Windows Phone.

    Only one device actually has a full-QWERTY keyboard option available. That is the Surface tablet. And, of course, any device which runs Windows 8/RT.

    Having a full-QWERTY keyboard means that all of the numbers are available as well as the most common special characters - and they are all available from a single SHIFT key. All other on-screen keyboards which I have encountered require THREE shift keys and often they don't even indicate whether they are shifting from lower to upper case (or vice-versa) for letters.

    As for the QWERTY layout itself ...

    YES, we all know that it came about to keep physical keys from colliding with each other. This enabled improved typing speeds - and, of course, this is no longer an issue ...

    ... but consider this. Every high school graduate has seen a QWERTY keyboard layout. Even if you never took a typing class - or learned the proper finger placement - it is very easy to learn (almost instinctively) the location of every key in the QWERTY layout.

    OF COURSE ... you could just as easily learn to use any other keyboard layout but if you are already familiar with QWERTY, why switch?

    Once learned, any keyboard layout which minimizes the number of shifts which must be performed will be as good as any other (hence my preference for a full-QWERTY layout with which only one SHIFT key required).

    In short, IF IT AIN'T BROKE, DON'T FIX IT!
    M Wagner
    Reply 3 Votes I'm for Thumbs-up
    • Not Really

      Using a Qwerty keyboard is not instinctual. Any professional typing teacher can tell you this. Picking up a mouse and using it is instinctual because you can pick it up and instantly use it. Tell a 5 year old to put his hands on a Qwerty keyboard and start typing right away. It ain't gonna happen. It takes time to learn to type there's no getting around it.
      Maha888
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • Nothing about the written word is instinctual

        Learning to use one keyboard or another is arbitrary and, in an electronic age, which layout is of no consequence to the user. That said, the QWERTY layout is ubiquitous. Once trained (since childhood) to use one layout or another switching is difficult - very difficult!

        Adrian's point is that the momentum for QWERTY is over a century old and no other layout among those associated with the Roman alphabet (such as the DVORAK layout) has caught-on. The only way to change that is for someone to introduce a new layout to users (as an option) and monitor the conversion rates.

        There is no right or wrong answer. Just momentum for the status quo.
        M Wagner
        Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • Smartphones for 5 years old children

        Its a very good argument. Lets make phone por 5 years old children, and cars with no break ¿what do a Child want a Break for?

        I gonna vote for Thums-up understandind that yoy mean with hardware keyboard with minimun 5 rows with separate row for numbers (very important).
        GonzaloMadrid
        Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided