One of the most important uses for our mobile devices is constant communication. Whether it be with work, family, or social media, keeping in contact allows for a more powered and driven lifestyle. Although phones began as technology to further verbal communication, mobile devices have made the transition to text-based, with most users finding it preferable. For that reason, ensuring your device has a truly serviceable keyboard is tantamount to your success. While the legacy of mobile devices made full Qwerty keyboards a form factor element, new and next generation models have absorbed them into the overall operating system and user interface.
Let’s begin. Now, this may seem like a one-sided debate because not many would argue against BlackBerry in the keyboard court, but let’s put them through their paces just to make sure everything is out there. The largest market is obviously virtual keyboards, as iOS and Android do not offer physical keyboard options. In some ways, all virtual keyboards are similar. There are still a few differences along the way that I want to highlight to show the elegance and sophistication of BlackBerry 10.
iOS has taken severe PR hits in regards to their native keyboard on the iPhone. From autocorrect fails becoming a near living being on the interwebs to basic operations being MIA. They’ve been attacked and ridiculed by all. But it’s all good now, right? There are apps for that.
It still took them about 8 iterations to catch up… With the introduction of iOS8, Apple finally allowed the download of third party keyboard apps. However, other than a few kitschy vanity features, I would still find it lacking that an OS needs an app to improve on the operation of such an imperative function. Ultimately, if you need an app for that why would you trust the OS build in the first place? iOS 8 did (in 2014) offer another native innovation: predictive text. Text that will offer suggestions before you begin typing! Wow, way to catch up to BlackBerry circa 2013. Sorry… sarcasm.
There’s really not much to say differently about Android’s keyboards. Like iOS, they only offer VKB forms. (As for BlackBerry’s Priv, the hardware augmented the software which we will see later. So that credit lies solely in BlackBerry’s court.) Also, like iOS, they are often improved upon with the use of third party apps. However, they did offer some features like predictive text and swipe typing before iOS got around to it. So, kudos Android.
It’s a little hard for me to be enthusiastic about such an average catalog of features. Forgive me if it feels biased, and feel free to argue the options in the comments. We won’t even get into the security vulnerabilities.
There aren’t many things within mobile device history more iconic than BlackBerry and its keyboard. The BlackBerry keyboard is the consummate interface feature of the device’s archives. It has become such a part of the landscape, that when BlackBerry introduced its first full touch device Z10, they had to ensure that the virtual keyboard lived up to its physical predecessor. One small innovation that did this was in-keyboard predictions that minimized the amount of swiping needed.
While a physical keyboard may not seem to offer much for the OS, BlackBerry once again broke the mold. With their unique device, the Passport, BlackBerry took “swipe typing” to a new level. This bridged the feel of in-keyboard virtual typing with on keyboard predictions, allowing users to swipe up on the physical buttons to select a suggested word. The Passport also incorporated a fourth row keyboard on screen that offers the common special characters and numbers. This allowed for a sleeker physical design and a larger wide screen display. Furthermore, with its capacitive technology, BlackBerry reinstated the function of the trackpad that is absent from its previous PKB offering, the Q10. The keyboard offers a double tap feature that brings up the cursor allowing for ease of movement along text. There is a swipe left feature to delete whole words, and a swipe up feature to select predicted ones. And that is just for keyboard uses. There’s also scrolling and zooming capabilities in this capacitive keyboard. BlackBerry continued this legacy in their Android device Priv PKB.
I think it’s important to note as a final comment, that even though BlackBerry is touted as being ancient and old school for keeping PKB form factors available, there are hardware developers like the infamous Typo that try to emulate the BlackBerry keyboard style in a hardware add-on for slab devices. I think some people just like to push buttons.