I recently watched 2010: The Year We Make Contact and noted how the set was crammed with old-school keyboards. It occurred to me that if the film were re-made today, each of those conventional-looking keyboards would be replaced by a futuristic virtual keyboard on a screen, wall, or table surface (the control center in the film Oblivion comes to mind).
We have the technology today to create that reality of glass-based interface, but how many of us are actually using soft keyboards to do serious work on on computers? The first accessory I bought for my first iPad was a Bluetooth keyboard. The first accessory I bought for my new iPad mini 2 only a few months ago was a Bluetooth keyboard.
In my experience working with professional software developers at a prominent startup, instead of moving toward soft keyboards, the trend is quite literally opposite. Many developers I know are seeking out mechanical switch keyboards with greater “clickiness”, not less, such as Max Keyboard Blackbird Tenkeyless model (I’m told the Cherry MX Blue version is the most clicky). They appreciate the more active typing experience, and type more accurately and quickly with the more prominent haptic and audible response.
Soft keyboards are ubiquitous only in movies because they simply aren’t effective compared to traditional keyboards for most typing applications. They are perceptibly laggy and tactilely ambiguous. Soft keyboards’ most successful domains those in where typing is not the primary method of interface, and a form factor requires that keyboard space be available for other purposes too — i.e., a multi-level menu on a small wall thermostat, or an iPhone screen that can pop up a keyboard or play video in the same screen space. Even in the case of phones, QWERTY-based BlackBerry phones had a strong user base for years.
A friend proposed that, perhaps like fashion, past trends inevitably cycle back into favor. However, I’m convinced that in this case, we simply haven’t meaningfully improved on a sound solution for effective typing.