BlackBerry vs. iPhone--QWERTY vs. touch screen

A silicon.com jury of CIOs aren't quite ready to give up the BlackBerry's QWERTY keyboard for the touch screen on the Apple iPhone.

Apple may be set to release the new super-duper all-singing 3G iPhone this summer but RIM has hit back with the BlackBerry Bold, claiming users prefer the QWERTY keyboard over touch screen.

That view is backed by IT chiefs who say that, particularly for business users, the QWERTY keyboard on a smart phone or PDA is easier to use and gives more tactile feedback.

Two-thirds of silicon.com's 12-strong CIO Jury IT user panel said they prefer the QWERTY keyboard over the latest touch-screen interfaces, such as the iPhone.

David Supple, head of IT at Ecotec Research and Consulting, said: "Even my ham-fisted fingers can cope with the keys of a BlackBerry Curve. Touch screens are just too fiddly and have no tactile feedback."

Nic Evans, European IT director at Key Equipment Finance, agreed: "Keyboard for typing every time--would you play a piano with the keyboard lid closed?"

RIM's BlackBerry 8800 keyboard wins hands down over the iPhone touch screen for usability, according to Spencer Steel, IT manager at Informatiq.

He said: "As good as the iPhone virtual keyboard is--the best I've seen of its genre--I would take on a speed typing race on my BlackBerry 8800 against any iPhone user who was up for the challenge. The iPhone has the 'best of breed' in its genre and may look cooler, but get involved in a lengthy email tirade and chuck in a few non-alpha characters into the mix and the BlackBerry 'full-sized' keyboard comes out tops every time."

Andrew Jackson, head of IT at Huveaux, said: "The QWERTY keyboard, like those used on BlackBerrys, provides a familiar, standardized layout and good tactile feedback which is always going to appeal to business users who don't want to learn a new technology."

Ian Auger, IT director at ITN, admitted to liking the iPhone touch screen and interface for navigation but said: "I'm definitely a QWERTY man. Hitting a real key gives tactile feedback and confidence. I can speak with experience having tried the iPhone but reverted back to my trusty BlackBerry."

But others said touch screens will be the future of smart phone and PDA devices. Richard Steel, CIO at the London Borough of Newham and president of Socitm, said: "QWERTY keyboards were designed to slow typists down in the days when the print hammers could get tangled. Just because it's what we're used to doesn't make it right."

Dominic Cameron, technology director at lastminute.com, argued that most people will not need to use a smart phone for huge amounts of text input.

He said: "Overall the ease of use and navigation achieved on iPhone is stunning and the stats seem to evidence this in much, much higher mobile web usage. We all use devices slightly differently, but I 'consume' 90 percent of the time and 'input' 10 percent of the time, and what I write is short--more verbose than SMS but less verbose than standard email. So the touch screen, while early days, is already more than adequate. And the gains overall in the touch-screen interface are huge."

Florentin Albu, ICT manager for the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), uses both an iPhone and a BlackBerry and also manages the provision of BlackBerry services.

He said: "While I agree the QWERTY keyboard has advantages, these advantages are linked to doing things the old fashioned way. The touchscreen in this context represents the future, as it is linked to interacting with information in new ways. PDAs with touch screens have been around for a while; it is just with the introduction of the iPhone that this technology has been truly integrated with the interface, to create a remarkable user experience."

But one IT chief opted for neither QWERTY or touch screen. Peter Russell, head of IT at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust said: "Actually I like the PDA handwriting recognition for text and email."

Today's CIO Jury was...

Florentin Albu, ICT manager, EUMETSAT
Ian Auger, IT director, ITN
Mark Beattie, head of IT, LondonWaste
Nic Bellenberg, IT director, Hachette Filipacchi UK
Dominic Cameron, technology director, lastminute.com
Nic Evans, European IT director, Key Equipment Finance
Andrew Jackson, head of IT, Huveaux
Christopher Linfoot, IT director, LDV Group
Peter Russell, head of IT, Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust
Richard Steel, CIO, London Borough of Newham
Spencer Steel, IT manager, Informatiq
David Supple, head of IT, Ecotec Research and Consulting