iPhone: It’s not the Keyboard, It’s the Screen Size

by Chris Howard Apr 15, 2009

All this talk about virtual vs physical keyboards on smart phones is nonsense. The virtual is better overall, except for one significant factor: screen real estate.

I'm always bugged by the fact Blackberry users keep saying it, with its physical keyboard, is better for typing on. But I've fiddled with Blackberries in the shops and I reckon those folks are having a lend of themselves. There's no way those miniscule physical keys you have to press with your big fat fingers could be easier to type on than the iPhone's virtual keys which require the lightest touch, making it even easy for those with fat fingers.

Certainly you could argue the lack of copy and paste makes serious writing on the iPhone a chore. I wrote quite a lot of this article originally on my iPhone (in the app, Things), but if I wanted to move a paragraph or copy a URL, it was no deal. That will be rectified within a few months, but I actually think the Blackberry users are still right, but for the screen real estate reason. Here's a couple of Blackberry devices and the iPhone and their screen resolutions:

Blackberry Curve  8900: 480x360
Blackberry Bold: 480x320
iPhone 480x320 (technically it should read 320x480 as the iPhone's screen is portrait orientation by default.)

On first look they all seem much of a muchness.

When reading an email on my iPhone, I have 58mm vertical space available. But when I start typing an email, that shrinks considerably to 31mm, allowing just nine lines of text visible, displaying 31 characters per line. 279 characters. That's not many words, maybe 40 or 50.

In fact, it's the length of the previous paragraph. Look at that in context of the whole document and think about editing. So the more you can see on screen when typing, the better.

This is the essence of why the Blackberries are better for typing email etc. It's not about the keyboard. I'd suggest someone fluent in the iPhone's virtual keyboard would easily out-type someone fluent in the physical keyboard of something like a Blackberry.

Instead, the real problem for serious writing is the virtual keyboard steals half your screen. This doesn't happen on the Blackberry or any device with a physical keyboard.

40 to 50 words visible is not conducive to writing longer documents. It's fine if you just want to type out your thoughts for later editing on a large screen device, or are confident that your first thoughts in an email won't need editing, but the reviewing and editing is especially laborsome since it involves so much scrolling.

Even to double the number of words visible, as the Blackberry does, would make a significant difference, and hence I'm not surprised people say it's better for writing emails on.

However, short of Apple releasing a large format device (which then wouldn't fit in my pocket, but rumors are flying of such a device) there seems no solution while it uses a virtual keyboard. And I for one prefer a virtual keyboard to a physical one and every iPhone user I speak to is also happy with the virtual keyboard.

So how does Apple solve this problem? A slide out physical keyboard would seem the obvious solution, but then you lose the benefit of the most significant advantage the virtual keyboard has over the physical one, that is, it can easily be configured for any country and any language, no making a different device for each country.

So instead, what about an iPhone with a slide-out virtual keyboard. Now that could be a winner.


  • iPhone DS !

    It could make a nice eBook reader too smile

    Hywel had this to say on Apr 15, 2009 Posts: 51
  • If they add a slide out keyboard, it’ll make the iPhone 1/4 inch thicker, remove the smoothness of the iPhone, and make it more prone to breakage in the moving parts.

    Personally that doesn’t interest me. A slide out 2nd screen is just the same.

    A small percentage of people would love it, but a greater number would turn away from it IMO. Perhaps a longer screen (16:9?)  would give a little extra reading room? Certainly a larger tablet or eMate-like device may show up before long.

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Apr 15, 2009 Posts: 228
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