We’ve reached a point in smartphone development where virtual keyboards have almost completely taken over for physical keyboards. In many aspects, virtual keyboards are more efficient than the physical keyboard ever was. Generally speaking, virtual keyboards are faster, easier, and have more versatility. However, the physical keyboard isn’t necessarily without place here. We can see with BlackBerry devices that keyboards are pretty much essential for the company. For everybody else (save for a select few Androids) physical keyboards are non-existent.
For Windows Phone, though, I’m thinking that maybe having a physical keyboard for at least one of their phones wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
After reading this article by Surur on WM Power User regarding Windows Phone lack of a proper landscape start screen and seeing the image of the HTC Arrive, it got me to thinking: a Windows Phone device with a keyboard really was a decent concept. With the upcoming release of Windows 10 and Microsoft’s aim for unification, I think the idea seems even better. PCs use keyboards; Surface tablets have good options for keyboards; some of Microsoft’s smartphones could also feature physical keyboards again as well.
I’ve recently starting using my iPhone to work on Word documents from my phone. The convenience factor of being able to work on Word documents from my phone is astounding, but the virtual keyboard wouldn’t be my first choice for working on long documents. For longer documents, I much prefer physical keyboards – I find that it’s more comfortable in the long run, and it allows for a larger viewing area on the screen. Although I don’t think that the physical keyboard will ever make a massive comeback, I think that it does have its place in the Windows Phone corner of the smartphone world.
The physical keyboard for Windows Phone, at least on the HTC Arrive (and also the Touch Pro 2 for Windows Mobile) exhibited a concept I really liked. Not only did the keyboard slide out for landscape, but it also tilted the screen slightly upwards. The mechanics turned your smartphone into an actual tiny computer. When typing out long documents, e-mails, and even texts, the concept actually worked very well.
If you combine the idea of a good landscape Start menu, as suggested on the aforementioned WP Power User post, with a physical keyboard like the devices of Windows Phone past, I think that it could actually work. Surur also mentions that Windows Phone never really utilized a landscape option for its smartphones, which might have been part of the reason that the devices with the landscape physical keyboard never worked out.
I do appreciate a phone that doesn’t have the extra bulk of a slide out keyboard, but at the same time I think that certain people could still benefit from this old design, including myself. Windows Phone 10 seems like the perfect opportunity to reintroduce this type of smartphone. Now that Microsoft is making their own Windows Phones using Nokia patents (who made a similar slider of their own with the Nokia N9 running on Symbian OS) I have no doubt that they would be able to come up with a sensible design that caters to modern tastes.
Besides, I still feel like adding a little bit of variety to our smartphone designs again wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I get that the typical “slab” smartphone is a safe bet, but making one or two smartphones a little differently might not be a bad idea either.