It has been a while since I talked about the mobile space. To be honest, there hasn’t been a lot of interesting things going on in mobile or tech for that matter. It seems like a lot of the same recycled stories about web browsers and social networks.
But a trend is starting to occur that will be interesting to watch: the rise of the touchscreen.
This cycle seems to come about every few years. In the early 1990s, Apple’s Newton started the touchscreen craze. It died out in a few years. Then Palm came into being in 1997. And it died out in favor of the keyboard on early smartphones in 2003-4. Even Palm’s Treo devices, touchscreen all of them, no longer required a pen to use as the keyboard and track balls were already there.
But Apple has started the craze again. And soon to follow are (already announced) Google’s first Android device called G1, Nokia’s eminent announcement in October of their first touchscreen device, and RIM’s just (officially) announced BlackBerry Storm. Suddenly, touch screens are hip again.
The question is: will users want the touchscreen or prefer the keyboard? As I have said before, it completely depends on what your main mobile task is. I couched the fight in terms of BlackBerry v. iPhone, but it could just as easily be couched as keyboard v. touchscreen. Keyboards are great for people that do a lot of email. Touchscreens are great for people that do more browsing.
I always felt Palm offered the best of both worlds. The fake keyboards –like the iPhone — are slow to type on. Palm’s Graffiti was excellent for that as I could write very quickly. But at the same time, the keyboard could go away and this large screen was available for web browsing. It really wasn’t that different from Apple’s design, except Graffiti was used instead of a keypad.
Palm had the promise and none of the execution. Between management changes and lack of focus, the company was doomed to failure. It will be interesting to see if any of these others can challenge Apple’s momentum.
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I have used most of the devices you listed in your post over the years. When I bought each mobile device, they covered my core use cases at the time, and once a new device promised to do a better job I migrated to it. Of course my priorities changed over time as I had access to faster networking, but the things I want to do with a mobile device haven’t changed that much, even though the platforms and market leaders have. You mentioned “Keyboards are great for people that do a lot of email. Touchscreens are great for people that do more browsing.” I’ve been thinking a lot about what I love about various my mobile devices with tactile or HW input vs touch or SW input. “Keyboards or physical hard keys are great for people that do a lot of content creation (e.g., data/text entry, email/SMS/IM, + calling). Touchscreens are great for people that do more content consumption (e.g., viewing email, reading news, RSS feeds, browsing the web, watching video and listening to music). I do enjoy my current iPhone for the reasons listed here related to touch devices, but I do miss the tactile input of the prior wave of mobile devices. I think there are many sweet spots to aim for and the current crop of mobile devices are doing a great job of meeting consumer demand, but we still have a ways to go. Here’s an interesting video that explores some of the current preferences for mobile devices. As you will see, it’s highly subjective, based on user’s tasks and goals for their devices
I enjoy your blog…Keep writing… 🙂
Thanks, Richard, and thanks for commenting. I’ll check out the video. There has been some noise from early users as to the feel of RIM’s new Storm keyboard. I have heard it is pretty good and not that different from a real keyboard. It will be interesting to see how true that is.