My first phone was not cutting edge for the time. When I got it in 2011, the iPhone had been around for some 4 years and was in its 4th generation, Samsung had launched 9 versions of its touchscreen Galaxy line of phones and the app stores were on fire with hits such as iBeer showing off just how fun having a rectangular slab of glass in your pocket could be.
My first phone was a Nokia E71. While it didn’t have many apps or a good camera, there was one thing it had that I sorely miss, a physical keyboard, and it was absolutely brilliant.
Nokia E71: Photo credit to Wikipedia
There were two main drivers behind the switch from physical to digital keyboards in the late naughties phone market. At the time how and where we consume content and the type of content was changing. Bigger screens made way for video, better website viewing, and the ability to work more effectively off a greater range of apps that stretched far beyond just email and Excel as Kelly Roland famously demonstrated.
Another driver was thickness. Now I have no evidence to back this up, but all I’m going to say is that skinny jeans got really popular in the early 2010’s, could it be their success is owed to the sacrifice of the physical keyboard smartphone?
In all seriousness probably not. But it’s an interesting correlation to draw nonetheless.
The quest for thinner, more aesthetically pleasing devices led to innovations like screen lamination, enabling manufacturers to create sleeker smartphones without compromising on display quality. In this pursuit of design elegance, the physical keyboard became a casualty, relegated to a niche market that craved the tactile satisfaction of physical keys.
However, this isn't to say that physical keyboards have vanished entirely. A dedicated group of users, myself included longs for the days when typing was a tactile, satisfying experience. Today, a select few smartphones still cater to this niche market, offering physical keyboards that provide a sense of nostalgia and practicality for those who miss the tangible clickety-clack of keys beneath their fingertips.
While the transition from physical to digital keyboards was driven by the evolving demands of content consumption and the pursuit of sleeker designs, the legacy of physical keyboards lives on in the hearts of those who appreciate the art of tactile typing. As we navigate the touchscreen-dominated landscape, there's a subtle longing for the days when smartphones had a bit more heft and a satisfying keyboard was the epitome of mobile communication.