Which Input Style Do You Prefer?

Yes, this is a raging debate and it  has drawn a lot of passionate arguments and fights for or against  the different input types currently available on our mobile devices. Modern  trend  is that mobile devices, especially handhelds like smartphones and tablet PCs such as Apple’s iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab and the likes, are being used more and more by the majority of the people for their daily tasks. This write-up will therefore be focusing on the input methods currently available for these devices.

A few years ago,  most smartphones utilised the traditional keypad for data input and quite a lot of people are more familiar with this. There were the “touchscreen” exceptions then, and one that readily comes to mind was my old favourite, The Motorola Accompli. However, the trend these days seems to be tilting more and more towards the “touchscreen” , thanks to the  iPhone that has taken the concept of  touchscreens to a higher level.

Motorola accompli

The screen size of your average smartphone is a critical factor in useability. This has compelled device manufacurers to adopt form factors like “flip” and  “slide-out”. The idea being to squeeze out  – as much space as possible –  for the display. This ultimately resulted in the “touchscreen” style, Physical keyboard is replaced by a virtual one that appears when needed  – and vanishes, when not needed. Elegant and neat! While this effectively allowed the device manufacturers more space for the display, a lot of limitations have also been associated with this solution.

The first is the lack of “tactile feedback” with the virtual keyboards. While virtual keyboards usually have the feedback options like “sound”, “visual”, “vibrational”, none of those feedbacks  is TACTILE.

Touchscreen devices  use more battery power- all other things being equal. In today’s always-connected world, long-lasting battery-life is absolutely essential. Unfortunately, battery technology has not been able to keep pace with the ravenous demand for power of these touchscreen smarties!

Virtual keyboards often cover up portions of the screen while in use. This can be really annoying, depending on the application in use.  “Blind-entry” {texting without looking} is impossible on touchscreens.  Certain classes of applications (usually games)- cannot be effectively run on these touchscreens.  Legibility in brilliant sunlight is often a great problem despite advances with AMOLED and other cutting-edge screen technologies.

Virtualization  of keyboards of smartphones has led to software-based attempts at making data entry more stress-free and error- free. Some of the software are Dasur SilideIt, Swype, Mr. Milk DayHand InPut, among others. Many of them auto-correct and auto-complete (as you type). Some of them allow the definition of macros, great for repititive entry.

There are two sides  to this “input_style” coin. The devices that should have the most appeal are those that combine both the physical keyboad and the touchscreeen. That way, you have the best of both worlds. You have the liberty to choose any of them on your device – depending on the task at hand. This solution itself creates the problem of bulk – but, hey, nothing is perfect. There are always compromises

If I am asked to choose an input style, though, I would choose the touchscreen. I feel the minor annoyances associated with the “touch_way” are outweighed by the advantages and convenience.

What about you?


  • Eyebeekay

    Well, a world record was set for keyboard input using a virtualkeyboard utilising the Swype software. See intomobile.com/2010/08/23/woman-breaks-text-messaging-record-using-swype-on-samsung-galaxy-s/

    Speaks volumes, i think…

  • Right now, it has to be a full QWERTY or nothing. Especially because I just had a bad experience with my $580 HTC Touch Diamond 2. The touchscreen just went awful; wherever I "touch"; it just defaults to the bottom of the screen. Tried numerous hard resets, no show. I'm currently looking at reinstalling the OS; but I guess it's a hardware problem.

    In terms of usability in my opinion, the QWERTY keypad is king. I'm happy with my blackberry bold 9700 at the moment until such a time, I reconsider my stand.

  • Lekan Kalejaye

    For me, keyboard is it, at least for now. I've not been opportuned to use touchscreen that much but I believe it is faster when you type using a real qwerty keyboard than a soft-keyboard. You can type with two fingers without looking at the keyboard.

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