The Keyboard

I've tried PDAs and I've tried all sorts of smartphones, but the device that won its stay in my life was the Blackberry.  I've been through five different Blackberries over the past few years, including a brief stint with the Pearl and more recently, the Curve.  When the iPhone was announced, I was intrigued by its promises of a fast, focused user interface, but I was concerned about the lack of a tangible keyboard.

You see, I can type pretty quickly on my Blackberries; I've written multiple pages of articles on them before, when I didn't have easy access to a notebook or when I had an idea strike me while in an unusual location.  Anytime I'd pull my phone out to type down a message someone would always exclaim that they were shocked at how fast I could type on something so small.  In my mind, the iPhone would inevitably lose out to the Blackberry because of its lack of a physical keyboard.  Then I began testing the Samsung Blackjack and the Blackberry Curve. 

The Blackjack is the perfect example of why the lack of a tangible keyboard is a non-issue.  In order to attain such an attractive form factor, the Blackjack's keyboard is extremely cramped.  Not only is it cramped, but if you type too quickly, the keys sometimes have difficulty registering, making you type things like anad instead of anand.  The last Blackberry I used was the 7730 which had a huge keyboard by comparison.  But with the Blackjack, I not only had to type slower, but I had to look at the keyboard while typing - something I rarely had to do on previous Blackberries.  Then I tried the Curve.

I am Gigantor

The Blackberry Curve was a little better than the Blackjack, the issue with keystrokes not registering was not present (Blackberry's user base would definitely not stand for that), which made typing a bit easier.  But the fundamental issue of a cramped keyboard remained; I had to keep looking at the keys to make sure I was hitting the right letters, and while I appreciated the form factor more than my enormous 7730, the Curve made me feel like I had the thumbs of a giant. 

In both of these cases, the Curve and the Blackjack, the tactile feedback of the keyboard was hardly an advantage.  The limiting factor to typing performance was the closeness of the keys and as a secondary limitation, the keystroke recognition issue on the Blackjack; in other words, the iPhone had a chance.

My first evening with the iPhone's keyboard was absolutely horrible.  I had heard Apple's advice of starting with your index finger alone before graduating to two thumbs, but "dammit I am a fast thumb typer!" so I discarded the suggestion and went right to it.  About an hour into trying to type anything I hated the iPhone, I wanted my Blackberry back and I wanted Apple to make me another phone with a real keyboard.  The issue wasn't the lack of tactile feedback, it was the fact that my thumbs were hitting everything but the keys I wanted.  I tried slowing down, but that didn't help much either, I admitted defeat and went to granny-typing with a single index finger.  Even then I was making a ton of mistakes; each incorrect keystroke frustrated me to the point of needing prescription drugs.  I called it a night and went to bed, I would tackle the iPhone in the morning.

One letter down, only ten more to go

The next day I took my iPhone and sat on the couch with it; away from all computers, and with a clean slate, I took my right index finger and started typing as many pages as I possibly could.  I wrote some of this review, I wrote long emails to good friends, I text messaged everyone, I would not leave that damn couch until I had gotten better at typing on the iPhone.

Oh Hashmir, Multi-Touch Me Down There The Keyboard (Continued)


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  • icruise - Monday, July 16, 2007 - link

    Excellent review that (surprisingly, given that this is a very tech-oriented site) "got" what the iPhone is about. It may not be the perfect cell phone, but it's certainly an amazing one, and the first really fresh take on the concept that we've seen in a long long time.

    One quibble, however. The review states that Yahoo charges $3 a month for push email support. Yahoo does in fact provide free IMAP push email to anyone using a Yahoo Mail account on the iPhone. However, there appears to be some issues involved in the implementation and I couldn't find any mention of using push email with Yahoo in the Apple documentation, which may be why the reviewer didn't realize this.

    It seems that if you have any other email accounts active on the iPhone, push email doesn't work reliably. It may take quite a while (many minutes) to show up. I tested this on my iPhone and when I had my Yahoo Mail account as the only active account, messages sent to it showed up pretty much instantaneously. When I enabled the other accounts, that changed, whether I had mail checking set to "manual" or a special interval. So in short, I think the iPhone's push capability is there, but they haven't quite ironed out the bugs. Hopefully they will do this soon with a software update, and also enable push email for .Mac mail as well.
  • AnnonymousCoward - Saturday, July 07, 2007 - link

    How bout horizontal/landscape mode for the keyboard? With all this talk about fingers not being small enough for crammed keys, I'm blown away this wasn't addressed. Based on the aspect ratio of the keyboard in front of me, and the aspect ratio of the iphone, I don't see why you'd possibly want to type in portrait mode. Reply
  • ViperV990 - Friday, July 06, 2007 - link

    I'm curious if (a web-based multi-protocol IM) works on the iPhone. Can anyone please give this a try and report back? Reply
  • Icehawk - Monday, July 09, 2007 - link

    Great article, I really hadn't read or watched too much on the iPhone so it was nice to see it all laid out clearly.

    Sadly the phone, like my Tivo S3, is missing some very basic features (voice activation?!) and has some weird ergonomic misses.

    However I think this is a big deal, if the interface is as much of advance overall as it sounds that is big. IMO the next major advance computing (and these MFDs by extension) is the interface - we are still using pretty much the same paradigms as 20 years ago.
  • Calista - Friday, July 06, 2007 - link

    Hi Anand!

    I would like to know how you judge the value of the iphone. We fully understand that you find it an awesome device but it's no denial that it's also a fairly expensive and $600 will buy you both a normal feature phone (2MP cam and the rest) and a well-working internet-tablet like the Nokia N800 - which by the way support up to 16 GB of memory, carry a screen with higher resolution than the Iphone and support Skype. It's another device to carry for sure, but only another 200 grams and it can be left safely in your home when doing things more ..action-packed than sipping coffee at Starbucks.

    Quite frankly, I would feel fairly uncomfortable carrying a $600 device in my pants all the time.
  • Justin Case - Friday, July 06, 2007 - link

    I'm sure you realise there's an obvious joke lurking in that last sentence... ;-) Reply
  • Justin Case - Thursday, July 05, 2007 - link

    Any chance of a comparison with the Qtek 9000 or Nokia's N700...? Reply
  • 2ManyOptions - Thursday, July 05, 2007 - link

    Why the hate? Its not something which you can totally reject or totally throw like trash ! It does look good when compared to it's competitors.

    The price tag for the iPhone is an individual's concern. If he/she thinks spending 700$ on iPhone is cool, so be it, i wouldn't lose anything !! Does that mean the person who bought an iPhone is stupid?? I wudn't agree with that, its his money n his idea of fun n spending.

    I would like to buy something like an iPhone but not unless its below 250$ or something like that...And maybe something new, something better than iPhone will pop up by then.
    Good marketing by Apple though.
  • Koing - Wednesday, July 04, 2007 - link

    to pick the 4GB instead of the 8GB version! :P Reply
  • aGoGo - Wednesday, July 04, 2007 - link">HTC Omni

    If Steve was holding this phone a million idiot will be standing in line from now till October :p

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