Mobile Input

Input methods and devices are very personal things. Most folks I know are pretty particular about their keyboard, mouse (or trackpad), desk set-up, etc. It makes sense. You spend a lot of time with these tools and you want them to fit you and the way you work.

Mobile devices are no different in this respect. Based on each person’s usage patterns, experience, personal preferences, hand size, etc. certain types of devices will work better or worse for them. Where mobile devices do differ is that the input mechanisms are built into the device. You can’t get a different keyboard or mouse if you don’t like the way you have to type on your mobile device. Hardware matters.

In my previous post I talked about my preference for hardware keyboards over virtual keyboards. This prompted a number of comments that assumed I haven’t really tried a virtual keyboard. This isn’t the case, I’ve owned the original iPhone, the iPhone 3GS and currently own and use an iPod touch. I’ve used the iOS virtual keyboard for years, and I much prefer my BlackBerry keyboard to it. However, not all physical keyboards are better than virtual keyboards. I prefer the iOS virtual keyboard to the hardware keyboard on the Palm Pre Plus that I used for about 6 months.

I’ve only had my Droid 2 (R2D2) for a couple of days, but so far I’m not a fan of the Android virtual keyboard on the device. I’m much less accurate on it than I am on the iOS virtual keyboard – the same experience I had on the G1 that I previously owned and the Nexus One I tried out for couple of weeks. The virtual keyboard on the Droid X was easier to use with it’s larger screen and resulting larger size for each of the virtual keys.

I’m not a huge fan of the hardware keyboard on the Droid 2 either. It’s a big improvement over the original Droid keyboard, but I’ve never liked landscape keyboards. I have years of experience with the portrait keyboard on the BlackBerry (and Treo, back in the day) and I find the minimal travel distance between the keys allows me to type much more quickly and the tactile feedback allows me to type more accurately. I do prefer the landscape hardware keyboard to the virtual keyboard on the Droid 2, and I’m becoming more accurate and efficient with it the more I use it.

I’ve used a lot of mobile devices over the years, and my preferences are based on that experience. Many times when debating mobile input preferences with people I discover they’ve only ever used an iPhone. I’m pretty sure that if my only smartphone experience was with an iPhone, I’d think it was pretty great as well. However I do have experience with other mobile devices, and while there is a lot I really like about iOS devices I also find them to be limiting compared to some of the features (software and hardware) of other devices I’ve used.

Am I saying that I wouldn’t get an iPhone because it doesn’t have a physical keyboard? Not at all. I think there’s a pretty good chance I will get an iPhone on Verizon when that particular unicorn is available. My point is simply that the hardware on a mobile device is just as important as the software and the choices I make will be based on the overall experience that both of these provide. Until that time I’ll take advantage of the opportunity to really test out other platforms and learn what I can about them.