What it is: Physical keyboards were popular and considered a necessity for smartphones right up until the iPhone appeared.
In May 2008, Blackberry’s co-CEO Mike Lazaridis said, “The most exciting mobile trend is full Qwerty keyboards. I’m sorry, it really is. I’m not making this up.” Within a few years, Blackberry smartphones would plummet from their leadership position while the iPhone and Android would dominate the industry.
If you look at smartphones before the iPhone, you’ll find all sorts of odd physical keyboards. Blackberry smartphones displayed a “beard” of physical keys at the bottom while other manufacturers offered slide out keyboards so you could use them in landscape mode. The main similarity between all these physical keyboards was that they were cumbersome and took up space, making the smartphone bulkier.
Nowadays, virtual keyboards found on the iPhone and Android have become commonplace. The next question is when will physical keyboards fall out of favor with computers?
Apple has already moved in that direction by offering the Touch Bar, which replaces the largely obsolete rows of function keys at the top of most keyboards. The Touch Bar offers virtual keys representing shortcuts for whatever program you happen to be using at the time. Once you start using the Touch Bar, you’ll realize how versatile it can be mainly because it replaces clumsy, single-purpose physical keys.
Now how long will it take for Apple to wipe out the physical keyboards altogether? If you look at laptops sold in other countries, you’ll see that the keyboards are different from American keyboards because keyboards sold in other countries need to display different letter and accent keys to make typing easier in that particular language.
This forces manufactures to make one keyboard for one country and another keyboard for another country. Not only is this wasteful, but it’s inefficient. Virtual keyboards can eliminate both problems just like they solved the problem of physical keyboards on smartphones.
Apple is working to make the virtual keyboard on computers a reality. Their trackpads on the latest laptops actually use a taptic engine to trick your fingers into feeling like you’re pressing down to click when you’re actually not pressing anything down at all.
This trick of the senses is crucial for creating a virtual keyboard as well. Many people prefer physical keyboards for the tactile feedback they get from pressing the keys. What if a virtual keyboard could offer that same tactile feedback while still being versatile enough to customize itself for various applications?
When such a virtual keyboard becomes available, you can be certain the days of physical keyboards will be numbered. Just as physical keyboards couldn’t survive in the smartphone world, they have little chance of surviving in the computer world.
One day your computer will have a virtual keyboard and everyone will wonder how they ever get along with physical keyboards, just like today’s iPhone users can’t believe people once insisted that physical keyboards on smartphones were the answer.