It’s a rare occurrence to see smartphones with a physical keyboard anymore. The most recent example I can think of is the BlackBerry Priv, which came out just over a year ago. In fact, BlackBerry is really the only manufacturer that’s still somewhat dedicated to the inclusion of a physical keyboard, which isn’t saying much these days. Not only have physical keyboards taken a nosedive in demand thanks to the advanced virtual keyboards our smartphones have, but BlackBerry, a once mighty and highly influential brand name in mobile, has also tapered off after failing to adapt to rising smartphone trends quickly enough.
Still, BlackBerry isn’t dead yet. Stranger yet, the company appears to still have a soft spot for the inclusion of a physical keyboard as the company’s CEO, John Chen, recently revealed that a new Android smartphone with a physical keyboard is currently in the works.
The phone has been given the codename “BlackBerry Mercury”, and unlike the Priv, it’s speculated that this smartphone will feature the classic BlackBerry “candy bar” form factor. It’s also heavily implied that this may be the last BlackBerry device with a physical keyboard for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, it’s probably safe to assume that even BlackBerry doesn’t think that physical keyboards have a place in mobile anymore.
But I think that there are some cases in which they still do; I just don’t think BlackBerry’s solutions have been the best.
BlackBerry may have had the longest track record of holding onto the physical keyboard, but none of my favorite keyboards on smartphones had ever come from BlackBerry. I loved keyboards on Palm devices; the rubberized texture were great for nails and they were comfortable. What I loved more than the texture of Palm keyboards was the convenience of landscape slide-out keyboards.
HTC is another name that comes to mind when I think of great slide-out keyboards. The MyTouch 3G Slide had a great keyboard. The keyboard was sturdy and always snapped right into place whether you were opening the keyboard up or sliding it out of view. Another HTC device, the HTC Arise, not only got the keyboard right, but the device even had a mechanism that tilted the screen at an angle when the physical keyboard was in use. I always thought that was a cool phone (but it was also, unfortunately, a Sprint-exclusive Windows 7 Phone, so not very well known).
I don’t think there’s a big market for physical keyboards anymore considering how advanced virtual keyboards are, but they still have their benefits: they offer more screen real estate when typing, they are re-mappable and make convenient shortcut keys, and people can use muscle memory to type without looking. But I think in regards to smartphones, manufacturers like BlackBerry – and even Samsung, who has created an interesting physical keyboard accessory for devices like the Note 5, Galaxy S6 and S7 – missed the mark by only offering portrait-oriented keyboards in later years. Perhaps just a personal preference, but slide-out landscape keyboards make more sense to me because they’re not as cramped.
I don’t see the new BlackBerry gaining much traction either way, but the fact that they’re still coming out with a device with a physical keyboard makes me wonder what kind of demand there still is for the feature. What do you think, readers? Do you think the physical keyboard is completely outdated by virtual keyboards, or is there still a place for them? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!