The genius of the iPhone’s keyboard

One of the most interesting parts of the Stevenote a couple of days ago was when the VP of something or other for the iPhone division messed up hand-typing something into his iPhone.

I don’t read a ton into that – I’d be a little nervous too, in front of 5000 people and, most particularly, my incredibly demanding, incredibly perfectionist, incredibly seuccessful boss.

But it did start an interesting chain reaction of thoughts in my brain: what if the iPhone keyboard is pure genius not for it’s ease of data entry … but for it’s difficulty?

Let me give some context:

  1. I hardly ever text people on my phone
  2. I egocentrically think that most over-25 people are like me
  3. But when I do, it’s amazingly tedious
  4. I’d like an easier way to do it
  5. But I don’t want a mostly-useless keyboard cluttering up my phone all the time

I think the iPhone will not be nearly as fast at text-entry as most hard-button smartphones. You won’t be able to type by feel – you’ll have to be looking all the time. Your fingers won’t develop nearly as much of a kinesthetic knowledge of the letter positioning. Your speed will be way down.

Whoa. Hold up. Not your speed … Jessica’s speed.

Jessica is 17. Jessica texts every hour of every day. Jessica has thumb calluses from texting. Jessica has 50 friends her age who all text. Jessica runs her social life through her phone’s little keys.

iPhone is not for Jessica.

However, if you’re like me … I’d like to do a little more texting, if the user interface didn’t suck big brass monkey balls. But the effort curve is too steep for the small amount of texting that I would do, to get good at it, to do it regularly. So I don’t text. And when I do, it takes forever. iPhone is going to radically speed up the limited amount of texting I do.

iPhone is for me – and for you. (If you’re like me.)


10 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Jessica is 17. She enjoys a challenge, and her motor skills are sufficiently undeveloped to be plastic. She will figure out how to make the iPhone keyboard work fast. And she will love the media components. Gloom and doom stuff on the web, that isn’t paid for Microsoft, Nokia, LG, Samsung, Palm, RIM, or a hedge fund, never takes human adaptability into account.

  • I think you give Jessica too little credit. Jessica is 17. Her brain synapses are still able to crazy things. And don’t forget about Molly, the girl who can type 45 wpm on a regular telephone keypad.

    No one is willing to give this keypad a chance for some reason. A real chance. We haven’t had touchscreens that allow you to target two places at once before on a phone. So HOW DO WE KNOW? All the pundits, the newspapers, the analysts are making bad predictive judgements here based on old experiences.

    Let’s wait and see. It’s not much longer now.

  • Just a thought … I know that your fingers don’t touch a physical button while texting, but i’ll bet after a while your hands will land over the iPhone screen keys properly, just based on their position relative to the body of the phone, and not how they feel as keys.

    This is why Steve says it will take a week or so to learn how to use the keyboard. At first you’ll be awkward. Then you’ll gradually memorize the “keys’ and their spacing. By the end, you’ll be flying like, well, Jessica.

    People are remarkably adaptable organisms. And a lot of keyboards are configured like a solid flat surface because it looks cool. So there might not be as much of an adjustment as you’d think.


  • The iPhone Keyboard For the 30something Generation…

    JohnK, my ex-boss has some good thoughts on > bizhack” href=””>The genius of the iPhone’s keyboard that I have to……

  • I try to “text” as little as possible, even when sitting at a real-full sized keyboard.Thanks to stuff like auto-fill in browsers, my limited typing skills are less and less of a liability every year.

  • “if the user interface didn’t suck big brass monkey balls”

    That’s pretty damned funny and accurate.

  • Hi John

    Just a little internationalisation of your post. I’m writing from Singapore where everyone over the age of about 6 uses SMS text on their phones (some people pretty much constantly throughout the day). On the trains you see pensioners banging messages out. My observation from some pretty extensive regional travel in the past year is that this applies throughout Asia. Even in rural farmland China earlier this year pretty much everyone I saw had a phone in their hand.

    My mother in Australia (who’s in her 60s) messages me and all her friend. Actually I don’t think I know anyone anywhere who doesn’t use SMS except a friend in NY who doesn’t actually own a mobile phone. Perhaps the non-texting thing is regional? From a non-US perspective I’d say text is the number one over-riding king of phone functions, used far, far more than any other.

    =) Marc

  • Typing on the iPhone on a sunny day without tactile and visual feedback will be fun. Good luck.

  • Touchscreen keyboards generally do not work, and no amount of apple aura is going to change that. There are plenty of touch-screen specific technologies that do work. (’ s messagease is one) apple better get on board with one of these touch specfic techs.

  • I type at about 50 WPM and I do know a girl who can outtype me on her Nokia with the T9 dictionary. It’s amazing. The iPhone is a cellphone, not a computer, so any comparisons between the iPhone keyboard and other keyboards whould be with other cellphones.