Where Are the Keyboards?


I have a beef with Steve Jobs. Here I sit with a brand-new iPod Touch that I think is the neatest techno device I’ve ever carried around, and I can scarcely type on it. Sure I can thumb my way through a bit of email text on the Touch’s virtual keyboard, but come on! That isn’t real typing.

And for what reason? Because Steve Jobs doesn’t like keyboards. He loves clean lines, thin lines, and lack of clutter. Admirable. He’s led the charge for some of the nicest computer designs we’ve yet seen. But the idea of someone using an external keyboard on his little design jewel must cause him grief, because the technology to support one is built in. It’s called BlueTooth. But there’s no BT external keyboard support driver for the Touch or iPhone. If there were, believe me, the keyboards would be out there.

I think the designers justify the decision not to support keyboards with the observation that if you need a keyboard, Apple has the solution for you. It’s called a Macbook.

Hey, Macbooks are cool. So are netbooks. I own one. But I don’t always want to carry one around. There are many times I prefer not to wear a backpack.

So let’s back up in time. I bought a Palm Pilot 500 many years ago, and not long after I bought a Stowaway keyboard for it. It folded like an accordion and fit in a spare pocket. The Pilot would perch on its physical connector and the Stowaway provided a great keyboard experience. I took to writing short articles and journal entries with it.

A number of years later, I bought a Palm TX, which I still have, and a Palm BlueTooth wireless keyboard. The keyboard folds in half, fitting easily in a spare pocket. The keyboard even stores a little tray for the TX to sit in. With the TX set to fullscreen, landscape mode I can write with it as fast as I can on my netbook. As a technology, the TX is nowhere near as sophisticated and fun as the iPod Touch, but it demonstrates how productive a pocketable device can be as a writing tool. All that’s required is some kind of text editor. In the Palm TX I use Wordsmith.

In the iPod Touch I use WriteRoom, a $5 iPhone app. It’s a good little text editor with excellent sync’ing features. I sometimes poke short notes and passages into it with the Touch’s virtual thumbboard. But hey, that isn’t writing writing. Fine for Twitter, but very unfine for short stories.

So, my question: where are the keyboards? Why cripple a potentially powerful writing device for the sake of a misguided design principle?

Here’s the ante. I’m watching for the next generation of combo touchscreen, notebook, e-reader tablet devices rumored to be coming from both Apple and Microsoft. And by the way, Mac devotees, don’t assume Apple has a huge lead here. Microsoft has extensive touchscreen design experience. Bill Gates was very keen on tablet PCs, pushing them a few years ago when they were a little ahead of their time.

The first company that offers external BT keyboard support for their device gets my vote, meaning my money. No external BT keyboard support, no buy.

My single customer boycott is no threat to the financial well being of either company, but that’s my rant for the day, and I’m sticking to it.

3 thoughts on “Where Are the Keyboards?

  1. Gene, I’m with you 100%. I won’t give up my Touch, but I think Jobs blocking API for a BT keyboard connection is stupid, STUPID, STUPID. By opening this up, he would create MORE demand for the Touch concept. People would demand more memory, improved applications for writing, apps for transferring photos directly from digital cameras, etc.

    Would it cannibalize MacBook sales? I really doubt it. Maybe a very tiny bit, but the profit would be more than made up by Touch sales.

    Jobs may be listening to us … let’s just hope.

  2. … and as you know I loved my Zaurus with the IR keyboard that I had working with it. As the Zaurus aged and lacked the memory I really needed, I went to replace it. I would have bought another one if they were available. But they’re not. So if I had a Touch that worked the same way, once it got too old or surpassed by a new model that had features I needed, I would buy it.

    Time for some zazen to calm me down. 😀

  3. Earl, I didn’t get a notification these two messages were in the queue. Thanks for the comments. I think we’re on the same page. With your Zaurus, you know how nice it is to use an external keyboard.

    I’m learning how to Thumb-Type text, but I’d rather not be Thumbing it Down 🙂

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