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Apple's Billion Dollar Gamble Riding On Its Lack of Keyboard
June 13, 2007 7:02 PM   Subscribe

“There has never been a massively successful consumer device based solely on a touch screen”...designers and marketers of electronic devices centers are having a spirited debate about whether consumers will have the patience to overcome the hurdle that will be required to type without the familiar tactile feedback offered by conventional keyboards. Any significant number of returns of the iPhone could conceivably undermine what until now has been a remarkable promotional blitzkrieg that culminates in the phone’s release June 29.
posted by wfc123 (52 comments total)

 
No more of this, please.
posted by rxrfrx at 7:10 PM on June 13, 2007 [3 favorites]


The article is hand-wringing over a product that hasn't been released, which people have not had a chance to use. Just another slow news day in the NYT business section. A more interesting article would be looking into why Apple stock almost always drops after a Keynote event.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:12 PM on June 13, 2007


That's just not correct. The Palm Pilot was entirely based around its touch screen, as he points out in the article, and that was massively successful.
posted by bshort at 7:12 PM on June 13, 2007


Q: You like iPhone? You are a person who likes THE iPhone that we are currently not holding?
A: Yes! I like iPhone!
Q: You like iPhone! In fact, you are a person who likes iPhone as much as a prostitute likes sex!
A: YES I LIKE IPHONE AS IF IT WERE MY PROFESSION!! TELL ME MORE ABOUT IT.
Q: SHUT THE FUCK UP.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:15 PM on June 13, 2007 [5 favorites]


Not to be too picky about the point, bshort, but the Palm Pilot which used a stylus isn't generally considered a "touch screen" where people think of using it with their fingers.
posted by chimaera at 7:20 PM on June 13, 2007


I second the Palm Pilot. Hugely successful all touch screen - and any day now I'm going to figure out how to script. The big problem I can't get over with with the IPhone is that typing on small devices like a blackberry becomes intuitive after a while because you can eventually rely on a different sense than sight. With a touch screen for typing it's going to be all sight no matter how much you do it. When I type search terms on my GPS it's only slightly easier today than it was on day one and it's ncredibly frustrating when I try to speed up and type the wrong letter because my finger fell inbetween letters. If they have solved that issue then kudos to Apple but I don't see how this becomes anything more than a novelty if people cannot text or respond to emails with it.
posted by any major dude at 7:22 PM on June 13, 2007


I hate to complain about a post (well usually), but come on. Can we have a ban on iPhone front page posts until the silly thing comes out at the end of the month?

Even the Jehovah's Witness folks only bother to come around twice a year. This Apple religion is out of control.
posted by inthe80s at 7:23 PM on June 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


Most of the portable GPS units are touchscreen only. They even use an on-screen keyboard similar to the iPhone. I'd say they've proved pretty successful, and you don't hear complaints about the lack of a physical keyboard.
posted by Eddie Mars at 7:24 PM on June 13, 2007


A small nitpick, but to me the PalmPilots were aimed at business people and professionals who most likely were willing to surmount the learning curve in order to take advantage of the practical applications of the product, whereas the iPhone is supposedly designed for the "average" consumer who does not necessarily need it for PDA purposes.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:26 PM on June 13, 2007


I am patiently waiting to find out if $500 can solve the problem of fat fingers.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:27 PM on June 13, 2007


bshort writes "The Palm Pilot was entirely based around its touch screen, as he points out in the article, and that was massively successful."

Not massively, no. I'd say it was quite successful, or even very successful. Or, even, as any major dude puts it, hugely successful. But the Palm Pilot was definitely not massively successful.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:32 PM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Great, now the aAppleists are trying to censor Metafilter, too. When will the holocausts end?
posted by padraigin at 7:33 PM on June 13, 2007


I had a Handspring (Palm clone) and I'm not a business person. Perhaps they were originally intended for the business marker, but I think their success went well beyond that sector.
posted by oddman at 7:34 PM on June 13, 2007


Wouldn't it seem to anyone else that it would be fairly easy to come up with a touch typing system for a purely touch screen? To initiate it, you touch a specific place on the screen, say both lower corners (I'm imagining thumbs doing the typing, here).

Then you touch comfortable places with both thumbs to establish your "center" for each thumb. Now, if you you imagine four invisible "buttons" surrounding each thumb, you get more than 26 possible combinations if you include the center position. The touch pad would have to be able to have a scaled pressure sensor so that thumbs gliding over the screen are perceived differently than an actual "press."

It would take some training but I bet you could really get decent typing speeds with something like that.

Likewise, you could just script with your dominant thumb if it was allowed. It would be slower but perhaps more natural. Neither would require looking at the screen.
posted by maxwelton at 7:36 PM on June 13, 2007


Yes, Garmin's Nuvi GPS is entirely touchscreen and I understand it's been quite successful as a "Portable Travel Assistant" (in addition to mapping, it has an mp3 player, travel guide, language translator, currency conversion, etc.) This is just, as mentioned above, pointless hand-wringing.

Also, coming from someone who is generally enamored of Apple gadgets - enough already with the iPhone posts.

furiousxgeorge, a friend with a Samsung Blackjack says that the predictive text on that thing's über-tiny hardware keyboard can tell when your fat finger has made a typo and corrects it automagically. For what it's worth.
posted by gazole at 7:39 PM on June 13, 2007


“There has never been a massively successful consumer device based solely on a touch screen”

... ergo, no one should try. Let's all stop doing anything. Particularly anything new or different.

On an unrelated note, anyone see Oceans 13, Spider-Man 3 or Pirates yet?
posted by aubin at 7:40 PM on June 13, 2007


I think many are missing that this is a product with features a bit ahead of it's time.
(not the product itself, just some features)

as posted here: http://dontclickitdude.com/?p=416
the multi-touch interface, I think, will be more of a standard feature of our computing lives in the near future.
AND... as it becomes more prominent the lack of textile feedback will become less of a hindrance.

probably hindering the way are brains input data based on the sense of touch, but whatever, people like gadgets.
posted by noriyori at 7:42 PM on June 13, 2007


From what I've seen of the iPhone, they've put the text entry screen vertical, making the keypad even more tight and (presumably) harder to use. Perhaps you can flip it to horizontal, spreading out the keypad a bit. If not, that's something Apple should change.

not like I'm gonna buy an iPhone anyway...
posted by zardoz at 7:44 PM on June 13, 2007


A more interesting article would be looking into why Apple stock almost always drops after a Keynote event.

That's very interesting, BP. Can you tell me how I might find the history of Apple keynote event dates, so I can backtest this theory? I'll send you the .mtw file when I am finished.
posted by Kwantsar at 7:45 PM on June 13, 2007


I'm waiting for the thread to devolve into a MAC vs PC debate, that's what usually happens when an Apple product is discussed.
posted by mattoxic at 7:47 PM on June 13, 2007


the multi-touch interface, I think, will be more of a standard feature of our computing lives in the near future.

Buy stock in screen cleaner products.
posted by eriko at 7:53 PM on June 13, 2007


The touch screen's power is that it is versatile and you can change the interface surface with ease. Its disadvantage is that it is more difficult to type on because we use the nerves in our fingers to type without looking at the keyboard.

The solution would be a set of keys which could change shape and configuration in the same way. I suppose it would be some sort of plastic in an electrical field which would respond to electrical stimulation.

Could somebody just make this and send me a check?
posted by Ironmouth at 8:10 PM on June 13, 2007


I had a Handspring (Palm clone) and I'm not a business person. Perhaps they were originally intended for the business marker, but I think their success went well beyond that sector.

Nobody I know in business uses one. On the east coast the blackberry reigns supreme.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:13 PM on June 13, 2007


A more interesting article would be looking into why Apple stock almost always drops after a Keynote event.

That would not be interesting at all. Only the most pathetic fanbois care about the day-to-day fluxuation of their favorite corporations. It's like sports with these people.
posted by delmoi at 8:19 PM on June 13, 2007


Is there anyone who *doesn't* think that human children living a hundred years from now will be shaking their heads and laughing at the idea of typing letter-by-letter to interact with a computer?

Apple may be jumping the gun a bit; time will tell. But it couldn't be more obvious that a non-typing interface is on the way sometime soon.
posted by mediareport at 8:22 PM on June 13, 2007


Then you touch comfortable places with both thumbs to establish your "center" for each thumb. Now, if you you imagine four invisible "buttons" surrounding each thumb, you get more than 26 possible combinations if you include the center position. The touch pad would have to be able to have a scaled pressure sensor so that thumbs gliding over the screen are perceived differently than an actual "press."

That's a good idea. A very good idea, actually. I'd thought about having some chording system where you put four fingers on the display and type by hitting a combination of fingers, or moving up to another row for control characters (like space, shift, esc, etc). I don't know if the iPhone can do four different hot spots, though.
posted by delmoi at 8:23 PM on June 13, 2007


I think the future would be tactile displace. Imagine a fine surface with tiny LEDs on little pistons. The pistons can be raised and lowered, so the 'touch' of the surface can be controlled by computer. That way, you get the advantages of the touch screen and the advantages of tactile feedback.
posted by delmoi at 8:25 PM on June 13, 2007


I recently went into a store to replace my beaten up Sony T39 which has served me well over the last five years.

I was just appalled at the phones I was offered, which included all of the state-of-the-art units - Blackberries, Pearls, all the rest of it.

I couldn't in all conscience buy any of them.

I had no desire to buy the iPhone (although I am an Apple fanboi) until that moment. But after looking at the competition my only thought was 'shit, guess I'm getting an iPhone then'.
posted by unSane at 8:56 PM on June 13, 2007


I don't like it when people touch my computer screen at work, so owning a device that will only operate by smearing my greasy fingers accross the screen seems foreign to me.

Little known fact, human fingers can be quite oily and prone to smudge plastic surfaces. Also, how does the iPhone screen handle persperation, oils from your hair, Kentucky Fried Chicken grease?

It would seem to me that the ideal iPhone user would look alot like those plastic fellows from that crappy iRobot movie.
posted by bstreep at 9:37 PM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Not to be too picky about the point, bshort, but the Palm Pilot which used a stylus isn't generally considered a "touch screen" where people think of using it with their fingers.

Not to be too picky, but you're wrong. It's as much a touch screen as anything else is, and Sky Dayton, in the article, references it.

Not massively, no. I'd say it was quite successful, or even very successful. Or, even, as any major dude puts it, hugely successful. But the Palm Pilot was definitely not massively successful.

I don't know what the latest device count is, but as of 2003, Palm had sold 30 million devices. If that's not massively successful, what is?
posted by bshort at 9:38 PM on June 13, 2007


There hasn't been a massively successful device because the products have mostly sucked. For years now I've wanted a home entertainment universal remote with a customizable touchscreen so it's actually something that all the other remotes aren't - truely universal and therefore actually useful. The Kameleon falls far short. The iphone is getting closer. If the iphone takes off, someone will make an iRemote, and they better not screw it up! I want to be able to make my own custom button layouts via my PC, including custom skins and icons! :)

Such a device won't be massively successful, but it will be massively good. Which is all I care about.

(It's generally not the touchscreens that suck, it's the rest of the product).
posted by -harlequin- at 10:34 PM on June 13, 2007


I don't particularly like the comparisons this article is drawing. First the author brings up the Helio exec's quote about past failures with touchscreen consumer devices and then counters with the Palm device and its Graffiti touchscreen-based interface. Then he notes that Palm eventually adopted a tactile keyboard on the Treo and tries to imply that tactile keyboard > touchscreen. In reality, the comparison should be tactile keyboard > Graffiti gestures.

What the author should have asked industry reps is whether flexible, predictive, non-tactile keyboard > inflexible, literal, tactile keyboard. Since no one can answer that question until June 29, I want to add my vote for a moratorium on iPhone posts until such date.
posted by junesix at 10:51 PM on June 13, 2007




I can't afford to pay those mall people in candy striped socks and turtlenecks for hawt Igadgets with rounded edges. booh hoo.
Dang but the donut touch wheel on the old Ipod was/is the coolest , most revolutionary input/output thing in a long time , I think they get it from (?) Cypress Semiconductor, and someone with similar technology is suing Apple about it now?



As a consolation for no Iphone, my new work supplied Blackberry 8800 (more ladylike than my old 7290 plastic hockey puck) has Voice Dialing ("Call Aunt Mary") whick I just tried. easy. Yay!
VIVO (voice in voice out ) is the way to go in the future for the fat fingered masses.
posted by celerystick at 10:55 PM on June 13, 2007


For years now I've wanted a home entertainment universal remote with a customizable touchscreen so it's actually something that all the other remotes aren't - truely universal and therefore actually useful. The Kameleon falls far short. The iphone is getting closer. If the iphone takes off, someone will make an iRemote

Goddammit that would be fantastic. Well, it would be a massive indictment of home electronics, spending like $200 on a remote just so you can easily control your shit – but after helping my mother set up a relatively state-of-the-art entertainment system several years ago...there is a need.
posted by furiousthought at 12:36 AM on June 14, 2007


From reading something written by a guy who had had a quick play with an iPhone, it's software attempts to correct errors caused by having fat fingers. He kept making mistakes and wanting to go back and fix them, and the Apple person there had to keep telling him to ignore it and keep going.

I'll be interested how it all works out, it's pretty apparent that a big chunk of the PDA/smartphone market is moving away from all-touchscreen units over to things with keyboards. I know I ditched my keyboardless smartphone for one with a full qwerty keyboard.

As for the iRemote, all the touchscreen remotes I've played with have been stunningly annoying, because you pretty quickly realize how little you actually look at your remote control when you use it. The Harmony remotes have it right for mine, programmable hard buttons, with a screen next to them so you can tell what they are while you are learning the configuration. Once you have the hang of it you can use them by feel.
posted by markr at 12:36 AM on June 14, 2007


Most of the portable GPS units are touchscreen only. They even use an on-screen keyboard similar to the iPhone. I'd say they've proved pretty successful, and you don't hear complaints about the lack of a physical keyboard.

The GPS in the Prius has one, with a big display mounted in the Dashboard. The onscreen keyboard uses some kind of prediction to remove errors, autocompletes, and even dims out letters when they are unlikely to be what you want.

Despite that I hate using it, it's just painful. Entering anything takes much longer than it would on a keyboard, even a phone keypad would be faster for me.

The reason you don't hear any complaints is because people don't have to enter text into a GPSr that often, maybe once a day at most. When they do have to enter something it's either a street name and number or a 6 digit post code and number.
posted by Olli at 3:13 AM on June 14, 2007


Ahem...touchscreens
posted by Duug at 4:05 AM on June 14, 2007


One thing that I think is interesting is it seems like the iPhone rather than just auto-correct spelling will correct words by trying to guess what you meant. What I mean is, say you hit the letter "f" on a qwerty touch screen, and then type "en" and a space. It might register as a "t", not because ten is the most likely en word, but because of the words that can be produced by hitting one of the the positions near the f position ten is the most likely.

I think using specific information about the position that a touch was recorded could create some predictably excellent guesses as to what you meant. Using strike location it would be pretty clear that 'yoqerinf' was actually 'towering'. Because it is going beyond simple spelling correction. Now I expect that eventually this sort of probability based correction will get great, but it better get great, because if a scheme like this gives you so little information about what your actually typing until you are done typing it, or maybe even words that surround it, it will be a big pain to correct.
posted by I Foody at 4:33 AM on June 14, 2007


The auto-correct features have been around since god was a kid. Both A-9 and Suretype uses those features and having spent a good amount of time with both of them, you'll have to pry the full button qwerty from my cold, dead hands.

The full browser will be great. The interface for anything outside of typing will be great. The network will suck and anything involving more then a few words of text will probably be horrendous.
posted by purephase at 5:28 AM on June 14, 2007


Gee, my new Nokia N800 tablet must not really exist. Big, touch screen keyboard and all. Sweet.
posted by spitbull at 5:47 AM on June 14, 2007


And it has GPS capability. And Wi-Fi. No phone, but I can skype or other VOIP (including with video) over any wifi or bluetooth cell connection. In every other respect, it's an iPhone, for half the price, with a better screen. My other Nokia is a cell phone.

As a recovering Apple fanboy -- the company has really alienated me with lousy build quality of late, though I still rely on their machines for my work -- I say meh to the iPhone and "the new A, T&T".
posted by spitbull at 5:49 AM on June 14, 2007


Until it costs less than $300 and can run on other GSM networks, that is.
posted by spitbull at 5:51 AM on June 14, 2007


"Nobody I know in business uses [Palm hardware]. On the east coast the blackberry reigns supreme."

Maybe that's because after becoming massively successful with the III, VII, and V series devices, Palm up and stopped making the products people were buying from them by the million, opting instead to try to capture the high end status symbol market with poorly-thought out products crammed with features that CEOs neither know how to use or want to. The fact that damn near everyone is lugging RIM hardware around today doesn't change the fact that until Palm went batshit insane it had a massively successful product built on touchscreen hardware.

Of course everyone is using something else now. Palm doesn't make a product anyone wants. Mostly they just make generic Windows CE cell phone shit now, which one could by from any of a half dozen phone makers.
posted by majick at 8:00 AM on June 14, 2007


the iphone is a huge piece of shit and it will fail. apple stock is not worth $120 per share in a sane and rational world. it will plummet in the upcoming months.
posted by quarter waters and a bag of chips at 8:03 AM on June 14, 2007


"You mean you have to use your hands? That's like a baby's toy!"
posted by samsara at 9:41 AM on June 14, 2007


NYT's Markoff owes me some props! Bahstahd. (jk, self-link)
posted by docjohn at 11:57 AM on June 14, 2007


I am patiently waiting to find out if $500 can solve the problem of fat fingers.

"To obtain a special dialing wand, please mash the keypad with your palm, now."
posted by somnambulation at 12:11 PM on June 14, 2007


Can you tell me how I might find the history of Apple keynote event dates, so I can backtest this theory?

Kwantsar, I wish I knew. Maybe Apple PR could help? Again, I could be entirely wrong about this, so I don't know if it's worth time to research it. Perhaps I just notice the dips more than the peaks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:42 PM on June 14, 2007


A list of Steve Jobs keynote ("SteveNote") speeches up to 2006 can be found here. The big keynotes are limited to the annual MacWorld and WWDC conferences.

This year, the MacWorld keynote was on Jan 9. I remember the stock absolutely blew up after the iPhone was announced.
posted by junesix at 1:12 PM on June 14, 2007


Type M bitches.

Click or GTFO.
posted by Fupped Duck at 4:37 PM on June 14, 2007


Markoff: Apple’s multitouch technology

I saw bunches of demos of what is now, apparently, called "multitouch" in the late-80s and early 90s as part of that fad for VR and haptic interfaces. I am impressed that Apple seems to have made a successful grab for the IP mindshare here, but not surprised.
posted by meehawl at 8:37 AM on June 15, 2007


Apple now has a video on how to activate an iPhone. While it seems pretty nifty, I love how they just skip over the terms and conditions. I wonder if that makes them harder to enforce.
posted by grouse at 1:37 PM on June 26, 2007


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