We watched the touchscreen become the definitive feature for our smartphones. More than that, we gladly accepted it as the standard. Now, as our devices get bigger, thinner, and even more advanced, we are now watching as phone manufacturers phase out other features. Namely, hardware keyboards. They used to be all the rage, or something close to it, anyway. Now? Now they've been delegated to less than feature phones.
I'm not sure it makes any sense, either.
The last smartphone I used with a hardware keyboard was the HTC Arrive. It was the only Windows Phone (it still is the only one) for Sprint's network, so I took the leap. In all honesty, while I understood the concept of the slide-out physical keyboard, I just never used it. Too many motions to just reply to a text message, or enter in a URL.
Plus, the software keyboard in Windows Phone is just so good, even back then. Why would I want to use the hardware keyboard?
I have a friend who has the original Galaxy S Epic 4G from Sprint. He's had it for a long time now -- I think since the device was made available. He swears by the thing, even if he has had his fair share of issues from time to time. But, more than anything, he loves the keyboard.
He's asked me about new phones. He's asked me about phones on different carriers. More often than not I've told him to just switch to the iPhone, because he wouldn't have the issues he has on his current phone on that particular device. His response? "But it doesn't have a keyboard."
Touché, my friend. That it does not. Not the physical kind, anyway.
I know there are still people out there who want a physical keyboard on their phone. Maybe it's a landscape slider, or a portrait one. Maybe it's just a candybar-style phone like we've got with the BlackBerry faithful. Either way, I don't believe that the physical keyboard market has been completely removed from the equation.
But apparently it has. It's been reduced to something less than its former self. Now, physical keyboards are centered in the limelight with devices like the Kyocera RISE. Basically, $20 phones that barely get a nod. Of course, Motorola has tried to keep some of the love for hardware keyboards going with the DROID line-up, but it's debatable on whether or not that has really worked. And then there's the Pantech Marauder, which is a new device with a physical slide-out keyboard. Again, almost there, but it just doesn't quite pack enough of a punch to garner more than a few day's worth of attention.
It isn't so much that hardware QWERTY keyboards have gone south, but that they've actually been categorized as "less than" devices. Our own Aaron Baker has a vote going on the site in hopes to revitalize physical keyboards, and even if I don't necessarily use them, I think that this is absolutely the right way to go. Remember the HTC Merge? I wanted that device.
If it had launched on Verizon's network when we all thought it would, or at all, I think I would have spent some significant time with that handset. But, alas, I never got the opportunity.
But what say you, Dear Reader? Where do you stand on the physical QWERTY keyboard? Is it the markings of a device that shouldn't see the light of day? Or should we put a large focus on the unique handsets? Let me know what you think.