Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 9th Oct 2013 23:22 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

This is quite possibly one of the most beautiful articles you'll ever read about Nokia's demise. Five years ago, in 2008, a journalist wrote a letter to Nokia, on his own behalf, as a regular person (so not as a journalist). In it, he detailed how Nokia phones used to be easy to use by everyone. However, the Nokia E51 he was using now was a complete mess, insanely hard to use. He ended the letter with prescient words: "This will cause problems for Nokia".

The letter made its way to Nokia, and apparently caused waves inside the company, up to the highest levels. Company executives wanted to explain the company's strategy to him, and eventually, one executive even met up with him on a personal note. After first parroting the usual corporate speak, the executive eventually broke.

"I agree completely with everything that you wrote in your letter and what you have said now."

I was astounded.

"I completely agree with you and I want to apologise on behalf of Nokia for producing a bad telephone for you."

Then he started to tell about how a top-secret project had been launched at Nokia, in which a completely new operating system was being designed. It would result in new kinds of telephones. They would be easy to use and they would change everything.

I met the director again a few years later.

Then it turns out that he had been talking about the Meego. However, the project moved forward slowly, and finally the new CEO Stephen Elop shelved it completely.

This same Nokia executive took one of the many original iPhones Nokia bought home right after it was released.

As an experiment, he gave the telephone to his daughter, and she learned to use it immediately.

In the evening as the parents were going to bed, the drowsy four-year-old appeared at their bedroom door with a question: "Can I take that magic telephone and put it under my pillow tonight?"

That was the moment when the Nokia executive understood that his company was in trouble.


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Member since:

That just shows ignorance on your part, nothing more. Actual hardware keyboards are faster to type on and for many people much more comfortable than on-screen keyboards, plus they don't require you to stare at the screen to type. Your insistence on the concept of H/W keyboards being inferior because the concept is old is nothing more than elitism.

Ignorance? Predictive and Swype-type keyboards SMOKE hardware keyboards. They just raise hardware costs for no advantage.

I'm guessing you don't regularly setup EMail accounts on other people's phones, entering complex usernames, passwords, server hostnames, etc? With that kind of work, I often end up setting up accounts on my phone first for testing (a Pre3, a vertical slider) and I'm always struck by how much longer it takes to accomplish the same thing on touchscreen-only devices.

Virtual keyboards are OK for quick things like entering URLs or sending short text messages, but they're vastly inferior for entering large amounts of text. Larger screens don't help, they just change the nature of the problem - on my Xoom, the virtual keyboard is large enough to touch type on, but that's not possible without physical keys (at least for me). And if anything, I find extended typing with it produces more hand/wrist strain than on touchscreen phones, because tablets are too big to thumb-type on (beyond 7" IME), so I have to "hover" over the keys instead of just resting my fingers on the home row.

Even among the people I know who frequently & enthusiastically proclaim mobile devices as "the future" (some to the point of having outright replaced their laptops with iPads), they still all have Bluetooth keyboards for any kind of serious text entry.

If they were that good then users would be demanding them on more devices.

The fact that touch-only devices sell well does not, by any means, prove that people buy those devices because they actively prefer virtual keyboards - without specific data indicating such, it's equally likely that people merely tolerate virtual keyboards, because the other advantages of those devices are compelling enough to offset the disadvantages (and because they're not doing much text entry with them).

By the same token, the fact that consumers generally aren't clamoring for phones with physical keyboards doesn't mean that there's no merit to or market for such devices. For one, there's the basic chicken-and-the-egg problem: there aren't many current phones available with physical keyboards, so most people won't have used one, and they'll be less likely to buy something that's unfamiliar when doing their next phone upgrade... (ad infinitum). In the same way that, before netbooks and ultrabooks, most consumers bought laptops that were big and heavy - not necessarily because they preferred them, but because big & heavy accounted for most of what the major OEMs were selling, so most consumers didn't realize there were any other options (and those who did, couldn't justify paying $3k+ for an ultraportable).

I'd also argue that part of the problem is that, of the small number of available phones that DO have physical keyboards, most of them - simply put - aren't very good. I tried out the new "candybar" blackberry model (the Q10 IIRC) and I much prefer the vertical slider form factor of the Pre phones - because they give the benefits of a physical keyboard, without sacrificing screen size/real estate. And most of the horizontal sliders I've used have various other problems: bizarre key layouts (offset spacebar in particular), keys that are too flat/slippery for touch typing, barely any key travel/tactile response, etc. But those are device/implementation-specific issues, not problems that are inherent to physical keyboards.

Reply Parent Score: 2

Dano Member since:

You may have a point about virtual keypads when entering passwords and server names where exact character entry is required...they might be slower than physical keypads. The real speed comes from natural language texting and email content where swipe and predictive keyboards are way faster. Because the majority of smart phone entry are text communication, the benefits show themselves on these devices. Virtual keyboards obviously keep weight and cost out of hardware designs and I don't see many new phones on the horizon being introduced with physical keyboards. The keyboard on Windows Phone with prediction is ok, but the Swype keyboard on Android is crazy fast and superb for natural language entry. Microsoft is working on a compact swype-type keyboard also that is in the shape of an arc, which should be interesting.

Edited 2013-10-13 23:06 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

zima Member since:

I'd also argue that part of the problem is that, of the small number of available phones that DO have physical keyboards, most of them - simply put - aren't very good.

You probably like keyboards of Psion 5-series palmtops?

Reply Parent Score: 2