Keyboards Only A Child Could Love
By Mike Masnick, Mon Jul 19 22:00:00 GMT 2004

Keyboards on phones are the next big thing, but how useful can they be when they're too small for anyone over the age of five?


It's now official that keyboard are the next big thing coming to mobile phones. It's been said before, but now the NY Times has a whole story about mobile phones as "mini-computers" that require keyboard input. While the space has already been covered by devices every gadget lover is familiar with (the Blackberry, the Danger Hiptop and the Treo 600, among other attempts at keyboarded phones), the NY Times points out that keyboards are showing up on mainstream phones in an effort to get an older generation interested in mobile messaging.

While the younger generation seems quite comfortable tapping out high speed messages on their keypads it tends to scare away more conservative users who find the concept daunting. The idea with a full QWERTY keyboard is to make it much easier for those more comfortable typing on a keyboard to join with the mobile messaging revolution. There's just one problem: these days, mobile phone keypads have buttons so small, ergonomists are saying they are "only appropriately sized for five-year olds." They're not even talking about keyboards, but just the current numerical keypads -- so by adding all the other QWERTY keys to the phone, the keys definitely shrink even more.

The ergonomics study also frets that older folks are much more dexterous with their fingers when dialing, than their thumbs, while the youngsters put the older generations' thumb wrestlers to shame with their well-honed thumbing prowess. This may all sound fairly worrisome, but if the devices are really that problematic, there are an awful lot of post-five-year-olds who have adjusted. This doesn't mean handset designers should ignore older users (and there have been legitimate complaints that the senior citizen demographic doesn't get enough respect as mobile phone users). However, many users of mobile phones with keyboards admit that the keyboards seem small at first, but with a little practice they're quite easy to get used to.