Anyone REALLY still want a physical keyboard on their iPhone?

While most of the smartphone world has long since moved on to virtual keyboards, Kevin Michaluk believes there's still an important place, and 5 important use-cases, for the traditional physical ones as well. CrackBerry:

I've spent enough time on both physical keyboards and touchscreen keyboards now that I'm equally happy on both. And as I stated at the top of the article, in controlled settings I can pump out the words faster on a touchscreen keyboard than a physical keyboard. But there's a lot more to a great typing experience than just speed, and there are simply benefits to a physical keyboard that no touchscreen can yet touch.

When the iPhone first launched a chorus of Treo and BlackBerry users lamented the lack of the hardware keyboard they'd grown up with, and grown accustomed to. They wanted an "iPhone Pro", and suggested no device would be taken seriously — would be more than a toy — unless and until it went full-on QWERTY.

Fast forward to 2014 and, BlackBerry Q10 aside, I'm hard pressed to remember the last time a front-facing QWERTY device hit the market... or anyone asked for one. Sure, there's the Typo, but I'm not convinced that it really has a market beyond Kevin Michaluk, Joanna Stern, and similar long-time BlackBerry users.

There are simply so many new, touch-native smartphones users that legacy hardware keyboards aren't even in their rear-view mirror. From kids to those who simply found the original smartphones inaccessible or unusable, there's hundreds of millions of people now whose first experience is virtual, maybe even vocal, and there's no turning back.

That's not to say the hardware keyboard doesn't have some legitimate advantages, it's simply that the advantages of the virtual keyboard overwhelms them to such a degree as to have almost completely replaced them on the market. Given that everything is a compromise, the virtual keyboard is simply a better compromise.

That's not to say the iPhone's virtual keyboard is perfect. It isn't. From learning algorithms to improved auto-correct to features such as those offered by SwiftKey and Swype, there's a lot of way it can and should be improved. But here's the point — it can be improved. It's dynamic. It's changeable.

To paraphrase Magneto, "Software is the future, Kevin, not QWERTY. Physical keyboards no longer matter."

Check out Kevin's 5 reasons why I'm wrong, and then you tell us — do you still demand a physical keyboard?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I would have zero interest in an iPhone with a physical keyboard. Quality of many functions I use on my phone would decrease if screen size was decreased to accommodate a physical keyboard. Sent from the iMore App
  • With the Typo on the iPhone, it's still got a full screen, but a really big keyboard "chin", sort of like the old Droid Pro. That no one's made a Droid Pro-like device since makes me think it didn't sell well. (I'd be curious to see BlackBerry's take on such a device, however.)
  • The verge gave Typo a terrible review. Typo Keyboard review: mistakes were made Sent from the iMore App
  • With the physical keyboard you need to actually press to enter a key instead of just touching it.
  • That's part of the reason I don't use them. I have a lot of injuries from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and it really fires them up if I have to both hold a device and depress a keyboard. (Like the CrackBerry Claw! Kevin went through.) Capacitive touch is effortless for me. Zero pain since switching from a Treo in 2007!
  • No...I can't imagine going back...
  • No need for a physical keyboard. With SwiftKey I type faster on my phone than I can on a computer keyboard.
  • I'd like to see somebody design a phone with two sides. The front side would be a full display and the back side would be a smaller display with a physical keyboard. You could use which side suited your current task. The keyboard side for tasks that required lots of typing and the full screen side for media consumption. Sensors could tell the phone which side was facing up and power the other screen off.
  • I'd like the option. I really enjoy the accuracy a physical keyboard offers. I still have trouble typing on the iPhone's smaller screen even after months. Just because something isn't "the future" doesn't mean it should be done away with entirely. Just because we have trackpads now doesn't mean we have to get rid of mice, right? They're both good forms of input with their own strengths. I don't want to be deprived of my choice just because we have to barrel onward into the future and shed innovations at lightning speed.
  • I... um... got rid of my mouse when I got my trackpad... Ducks Runs
  • Doesn't mean everyone has, or should. It's the difference between choice and mandate. In computing in general, but especially in mobile, choices that are not the mainstream are few and far between. I just value choice more than anything. Just because many people see it as "old" doesn't mean I want to be drowned out and left without that choice. The trackpad is your choice, and the mouse is mine. We can both be content with the choice that works best for each of us. Name me a flagship phone that is between 4 and 4.3 inches in size that isn't iPhone and is available in America. Not easy, is it? The trend towards 5+ inch screens has all but eliminated that option. I prefer something more iPhone sized. But if Apple moves towards big phones and doesn't give an internally equal phone of the "classic" size, what then? The choice is gone, so now what do I do? Stay stranded in the past because my choice is no longer there? This is my big problem with the mobile tech scene these days. Following trends leaves few options for consumers and it ends up as a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts. E.g. "People want big phones, we make big phones, people buy them, and since people are buying big phones, therefore people want big phones. So we make bigger phones..."
  • I agree here. Sometimes I think people in the "older" segment (~27-40, of which I'm proudly a part), are SO anxious to be on the bleeding edge of technology, simply so that we don't feel left behind. Like you said, I wish new tech weren't a zero-sum game, i.e. "trackpads exist now so mouses need to be thrown away". Going on somewhat of a tangent, back when the "grand unification" of iOS and OSX was a thing, so many people were talking about how we don't need Finder or other basic features (or so-called "power features) in OSX, and I feel like that's poppycock.
  • Trackpad gaming?? No, thank you.
  • +1
  • While I loved the BB keyboard on my 9780, I have adapted to the iPhone keyboard. I see no need for a physical keyboard. The iPhone keyboard works fine for answering all my texts, work emails, and note taking at work.
  • No physical keyboard for me. Everyone has a choice, it's just not for me! Sent from the iMore App
  • Off topic, as a Pats fan, congrats on your win yesterday. Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't feel like I need a physical keyboard any longer. I do wish we had options for our software keyboard, though. If Apple would allow a SwiftKey or Swype type keyboard (system wide), I'd buy it in a heartbeat.
  • Maybe it is just me, or my (getting near) 7 years on iOS, but I disagree with point number two, for his very first reason supporting a physical keyboard. "2. You can type without even looking
    You've gotta love muscle memory!" I haven't looked down at the keyboard yet, and between auto correct and predictive text (I know, not true predictive, but I can't think of a better word for it finishing the words for me), I have made maybe 3 mistakes (was 2, but ironically maybe became mauve). Maybe I am in the minority, but I think muscle memory applies to touchscreen as well. Sent from the iMore App
  • I have to agree with Kevin. I would love to use an iPhone with a physical keyboard...similar to how the iPhone with the Typo keyboard looks...lot's of screen but still a solid keyboard and well balanced.
    This might be a good idea for Mophie to tackle! extra battery, more storage and a Keyboard :)
  • I have to say that I was one a keyboard phone user but now I type faster without physical keys than with. I found that the Typo was a bit too inaccurate for my liking and I disliked the extra real estate it took up in my pocket.
  • heheheeeeheee ..... you mean we miss something like this? ;)
  • i bought a palm pre partly because it had a physical keyboard. But the last straw was broken keys and stuck keys. I was done with physical keyboards. I've never wanted one back.
  • I don't need one anymore. Even right now I'm typing landscape on my iPad. I still get a good feeling when I type on my old BB or Pre but it doesn't compare to using the iPhone keyboard or tracing out words on the Google keyboard. Not necessary.
  • I enjoyed both posts. Working for the Government of Canada I have the displeasure of constantly carrying two devices. A Bold 9900 for work, and a Lumia 928 for my personal use. And for good measure an iPod Touch at the gym. When I am just sending casual e-mail, making posts like this, and crawling social media touch screen keyboards are the right thing for me. But Kevin's you-can-do-other-things comment rings so true for me with the Bold I love to hate. Seems hard to imagine that I could match the same degree of speed with complex characters and addresses, which I frequently type, on a touch screen. It does seem that some have evolved more than me, though!
  • I've never liked the blackberry keyboards. Everytime I tried one I would always press more than one button or find it difficult to get any rhythm. Personally think it's about software keyboards especially things like SwiftKey which with its excellent prediction and auto correction as well as the swipe function just for me makes typing on a touchscreen a breeze... Have tried the iPhone one but struggle with the size of keyboards on that and prediction Imo isn't as good as SwiftKey.. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • I no longer feel any need for a physical keyboard on a phone. It took some getting used to software keyboards but once I did, I quickly forgot about physical keyboards, and haven't looked back. I'm now noticeably faster on my iPhone than I ever was on my old physical keys devices.
  • Sure the iPhone keyboard has its faults but now 9 months with the iPhone 5 now 5s, I can't think of using the physical keyboard at this point. It almost feels like it takes more effort altogether typing on hard keys. A couple of Kevin's points seemed like a post filler but I will point out #6! I can't think of a single individual that has thought to believe dancing fingers a feeling [of productivity?!?]. The virtual keyboard has a better adaptability in the global sense of speaking/writing in another language. BlackBerry has shown us first in the Dev Alpha now Z10 and later that they can compete with the virtual keyboards from iOS to Android. I long wish for the BlackBerry 10 virtual keyboard on the iPhone. That's one keyboard to admire and one I surely miss. Sent from the iMore App
  • Nope. If I wanted a physical keyboard, I would've stuck with BlackBerry.
  • Dictation, baby, dictation!
  • Nope, I don't. Sent from the iMore App
  • YES!!!
    I could dig a 4 year old blackberry out of my dresser and do actual work at least twice as fast as a glass slab user. That is, enter calendar dates, send attatchments, answer a text, etc. etc.
    That phone is back in my pocket while I watch slab users flick, fiddle, and "opps!", etc. as they do the same thing.
    Remember, that keyboard is not just for entering text, it also offers tons of shortcuts... and tactal shortcuts. Each key is a potential direct entry to a common function.
    I am using an Android...and appreciate all the nifty apps in iphones and androids.
    I'm not fooling myself about the inefficiency, though.
  • BlackBerry should license it's Z10/30 keyboard to Apple. Even my wife got rid of her iPhone for a Z10 because of the keyboard. BlackBerry just makes good keyboards (physical or touch). Posted via the Android iMore App on BlackBerry Z30
  • Yes, I'm definitely interested, but more so for android than iOS actually. I've had probably 5-10 Android devices and the typing experience has been terrible on all of them. Swype is too slow to be an option, but don't swipe, then it's useless because the touch points are horrendous. The stock keyboard were terrible, so I bought Swift Key and something like 2 or 3 other top keyboard choices, I even played with the settings a bit, still had a terrible typing experience. Even on my iPhone there are days where a physical keyboard is just literally what I need, some times I just can't type with any accuracy on a virtual keyboard. Luckily I have my ZaggFolio for my iPad Mini on that front, but nothing for my iPhone. I've bought a landscape physical keyboard before but the keys were terrible and the case too bulky. Of all the options I've seen the Typo is the only one even worth checking out and it might not even be an option for long. Sent from the iMore App
  • It's not too slow, unfortunately it's you. Swype is ridiculously fast... Sent from the iMore App
  • Really? So time speeds of me typing a word out faster than using Swype to swipe those words are wrong? I can type on any keyboard faster than I can use Swype, I think much faster and that's the biggest flaw, I need to be able to type at the speed of my thoughts. Swype can't do that for me, it's too slow. Sent from the iMore App
  • I keep switching between a keyboard case & a wallet case on my iPhone 4S. Sometimes a physical keyboard is handy & sometimes I actually like to have my cards with me without having to take a seperate wallet out with me.
  • I find the iPhone keyboard to be too tiny in portrait and uses too much real estate in landscape. The shorter the text the less I care. It takes too much focus and backspacing to truly enjoy entering text. A physical tiny keyboard of the same size wouldn't help me with this. Give me a Zagg Folio keyboard case with my iPad Air and I'm golden — full screen viewable and effectively full-sized keys. Thumbed on my iPad Air in portrait, which isn't too bad.
  • I know I'm a on the minority on this but YES, I would want a physical keyboard or something similar to Typo on an iPhone. It maybe that I don't use my iPod Touch for typing as much as I do on my BlackBerry so I never really got used to it. But I feel that whenever I'm typing on my iPod Touch, I don't know if it's just because of my clumsy thumbs (or if they're just really big, haha) and/or I just find the screen so darn small, but I feel like I put more effort and energy into it than when I usually use my BlackBerry. So YES a option for consumers would be great. But I'll say this if having a physical keyboard on the iPhone would mean compromising the screen size, then I'll pass.
  • The biggest argument against a physical keyboard is the overall experience of using a phone. On phones with physical keyboards the keyboard is always there and half the devices is devoted to it all the time regardless if a keyboard is needed or not (playing music, reading, watching a video). That was the initial idea behind the iPhone virtual keyboard. There when you need it, gone when you don't. That concept is also applied to "buttons" in general. Why have those little red and green "call answer" and "call end" buttons on the front of a phone when hey are not needed? Sent from the iMore App
  • You can't swipe on an iPhone, and you'll never be able to swipe on a physical keyboard. Can't go back after swiping.
  • I do not want a physical keyboard for my iPhone.
    Sure, I have trouble w/the virtual keyboards when I type. That's why I try to use dictations as much as possible, but that is a skill I'm still developing.
    To me, putting a physical keyboard on an iPhone is like... Putting your pizza pie on top of another crust to help hold on to it.
  • People don't like change. I work for a bank, and BlackBerry Q10s are popular with older employees while the 40 somethings or lower go with the Z10s. Even with diehard BlackBerry users, the fact that they killed the call button on the Q10 has p/o a lot of users. I like the fact that my phone has no buttons. No call, no home, all gesture based. Maximizing the screen space is way better for my use. Posted via the Android iMore App on BlackBerry Z30
  • I do! Sent from the iMore App
  • I've still never typed as much or as fast as on the classic BlackBerry keyboards like on my Bold 9000 or 9900. It's actually changed how I work. I can't get on with touchscreen keyboards as well, so I don't do extended writing or long emails anymore without being in front of a computer. Either that or go back to using a BlackBerry full time. And right now I think that'd be the harder thing to do.
  • iPhone screen is so small - especially in (*forced*!!!) portrait that I'd take almost any alternative.
  • I've never wanted one on my iPhone. Still don't....
  • While, at this point, I wouldn't go back to a physical keyboard full time, i do miss it greatly when I am multitasking and want to type without looking down. I used to be quite proficient at this before I gave up my Blackberry for the iPhone 4.
  • Nope
  • till this day i do still miss the physical keyboard on blackberrys but then that would effect the screen size of the phone. i like iphone 5 screen if it was a little bit bigger wouldnt be a problem but but big as a galaxy phone is outside of my comfort and the blackberry q10 i love the form factor just wish the screen they can make it a little bigger without making the phone look to big or to long
  • I probably went through about 5 blackberries. I must say I miss the keyboard for my emails and messages but I'm realistic enough to know that physical keyboards are obsolete. I wouldn't get one for my iPhone (or any android/windows phone). I think that ship has sailed for many users in the consumer space.
  • I intensely dislike touchscreen keyboards, but I do undesrtand their practical and aesthetical aspect. Right now, neither solution appleals to me, we need some real innovation on that front.
  • The iOS keyboard is well beyond sub par...I love my iDevices but typing, the everything that I need to do the most on a mobile device goes hands down to having a physical keyboard unless blackberry is willing to port it's keyboard to other operating systems.....I'll buy the q10 version for 2014 if and only if it gets a bigger footprint. The keyboard is still rather tiny for my mongrel fingers. Sent from the iMore App
  • I have never owned a device with a physical keyboard. So my first experience was on a touchscreen. I have zero want to try a physical keyboard. I do also think physical keyboards on smartphones are a thing of the past. Sure you can list reasons why physical keyboards are better than touchscreens and vice versa. It doesn't mean that they are better it's just better for the person making the reasons. If someone likes something enough they can find reasons easily.
  • After using a Blackberry physical keyboard I wasn't sure if I would like a virtual keyboard. Now I can't see myself going back to a physical keyboard. Sent from the iMore App
  • I used iOS and Android trying to accommodate to touchscreen for heavy typing, for months. I went back to a physical keyboard --in a WP7.8. I will hold onto my Dell Venue Pro (got 2 more stashed just in case) until hell freezes —or another Windows Phone with a physical keyboard is released. And because of that, I’m NOT be switching to Windows 8 (WP7.8 + W7 are nicely integrated enough). Microsoft: No physical keyboard, no buying your other OS’s —for as long as it takes. Hopefully with WP9 + W9 you will put your act together —leaving current times in retrospective as a Vista debacle 2.0 extended to mobile. No execs who do heavy typing on the go will EVER switch to touchscreen-only —and those are your main customers, whose loyalty is withering due to your paranoiac and confused veer towards consumer-types.
  • I never really liked the hardware keyboards on my Treo or Windows Mobile devices. Even though I have fairly small hands I always though the keyboard buttons were too small and required too much force to be fast and accurate. I could type on them fine and it was an improvement over the using T9 on the standard number pad. But once the iPhone came out with a virtual keyboard I never looked back. I adjusted to it quickly and now I am way faster than I ever was on any other mobile keyboard. Virtual keyboard all the way.
  • Yes! I do! In fact, I NEED one, and am switching carriers today because the carrier I was on doesn't have them anymore. Just because you don't want it, doesn't mean no one does.