Apple iPhone is cool, but where is my keypad?

Apple’s freshly announced iPhone looks like an extremely cool gadget that I wouldn’t mind laying my hands on, and bring out The only drawback with the iPhone. I actually think the name “iPhone” is a bit misleading. To me this looks a handheld computer/PDA/iPod/web browsing device that also happens to double as a mobile phone. That said, it looks like it will blow everything else away completely. I want one. Now! However…

As I started reading about the iPhone I realised that this thing has no keypad. No physical keys at all, actually, at least as far as I can tell. Which got me thinking… how are you supposed to use this thing without keeping your eyes glued to the screen?

Whenever I use my mobile phone to write a text message or enter a phone number, the tactile feedback I get from the physical keys is quite important. It gives me that assuring feeling that “yes, I did press that key”. Tactile feedback also makes it possible to operate a phone without looking at it all the time by feeling your way around the keypad, like when typing a text message while walking or during a meeting.

I have two eyes that work reasonably well, so for me the lack of tactile feedback isn’t a problem I can’t overcome. But what about people who are not as lucky? If this phone is “revolutionary”, it should also work for people who can’t see or are using it in less than ideal conditions, right?

If tactile feedback is not possible, which may currently be the case, I suppose the iPhone could give you audio feedback by announcing which key you just pressed. Hey, maybe it could even announce the word it just pulled from the dictionary while you are typing a text message.

It would be great if Apple’s designers have thought about this, but I can’t find any info about tactile or audio feedback on their site.

Anyone else have any insight on this matter?

Posted on January 9, 2007 in Accessibility, Quicklinks


  1. Man. Now that’s a very good point.

    Hopefully the MacWorld attendees who get to play will be able to shake off the RDF long enough to check this out.

    You’re also entirely right: this is a handheld computer rather than a phone.

  2. Go here:

    And click on the video labeled “SMS” There is small video showing how you type on the thing, and yeah, although it looks more revolutionary than previous screen keyboards, nothing beats that physical touch. I mentioned that in my blog about this thing as well, one of the first things I noticed.

  3. I didn’t really think about that. I’m not sure how much weight I place on tactile feedback. I know for a fact I can’t dial a number on my mobile without looking at the keys, let alone send a text message. So, I’m probably as good with as without.

    A person with disabilities… they might not be so fortunate. However, short of simple dialing, I don’t know of any mobile phone that is really accessible. That said, the iPhone might as well be a brick compared to phones with actual key pads.

    As far as audible feedback, all the videos on their website don’t have sound when buttons are pressed. That might be because it’d be annoying in a video, though, rather than because the option doesn’t exist. The iPod, of course, has a setting for it. Maybe the phone does, too.

  4. I thought the same thing about the keyboard, although on further thought, I think the usage pattern of these sort of devices really mitigate the lack of tactile sensation, since you’ll normally be looking at the device when typing anyway, no?

    Although I expect that if this type of interface becomes more popular, people will adapt to not having a tactile response to their action. I mean, I have plenty of trouble with T9, but kids nowadays are pretty dang fast with it!

  5. It’s a give and take. One thing the on-screen keyboard allows is for easy internationalization.

  6. Yep, tactile feedback, or to be more precise, the lack of it was my only serious concern regarding touchscreen interface. iPhone has some kind of technology built in to prevent mistakes, though I did not find out exact details yet.

  7. A very good point. Yet I would be quite surprised if Apple hadn’t verified the concept properly before launching.

    Don’t forget it is a luxury gadget with a target of 10 million units. It is intentionally an acquired taste. I it rubs a conservative audience the wrong way that only adds to the appeal.

    It’s going to be really interesting to see how actual usage will be like, and what sort of user/use it will appeal to most.

  8. It’s a good point, but I’ve learned by now that Apple’s designers know what they’re doing. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, for now.

    Personally, I think you’d be nuts not to, with their track record.

  9. Blue tooth keyboard? It does include Blue Tooth.

  10. I find that when using predictive text I watch the keys rather than the screen, as I slow down and correct myself too much if I watch it guessing my words as I type. Just rattling it out and checking the whole word is a bit more efficient.

    Audio feedback as text-to-speech would be a good workaround though, presumably with headphones on, unless you want everyone on the train to know what you’re typing ;)

  11. What about the underlying OSX? Will this support Speech for voice recognition?

    I’m sure you’ll get tons of bluetooth mini keyboards from other vendors to send SMS the tactile way.

    Keyboards take far too much space and it will not be necessary if speech recognitions keeps on getting better.

  12. It’s a good point, but not something I would be too concerned about accessibility wise.

    The iPhone looks like it will be a very visual interface, with no practical mechanism for people with limited or no sight to use, much like the iPod. (The iPod probably could run an audio interface, and Apple have some patents in the area, so that might happen.)

    A friend of mine has a standard phone with a ‘screen reader’, and does calls, contacts & texts in the usual way. (With physical buttons, obviously.)

    She also has a Windows XP laptop with a 14 hour battery life! It is amazing how long they last when you don’t need a screen…

    You can also get phones without screens, although they aren’t common yet (equivelent to the iPod shuttle?), and the standard phones with a screen reader seem to be more practical at the moment.

    I guess I’m just saying ‘horses for courses’. I’m don’t know how much the lack of tactile response will bug me until I try it.

  13. January 10, 2007 by Court

    I bet they did a few user studies about this. Most people I see typing are looking at the unit they are typing on, when it comes to micro-sized keyboards. Tactile feedback can let the user know the key was pressed, but i’m sure the percentage of people who can type on those blackberry keyboards at a reasonable pace without looking is a very small percentage.

    Gustave Stresen-Reuter’s comment nailed it. Personally I like the simplicity of this design, and couldn’t care less about a physical keypad built in. Have a bluetooth keyboard available if you have to. Or buy a Treo (which are doomed to be uncool by mid-year).

  14. A lot people are saying this shouldn’t even be called an iPhone to begin with and it certainly makes sense with all the features this gadget is loaded with. Wonder how much Cisco is making out of an agreement with Apple for the iPhone name rights.

    Anyhow, in regards to the topic here, it must have had to be a trade-off for the designers to opt for more screen real estate instead of the buttons for the tactile feedback. I’d easily forgive the lack of this worthy feature because the thing just looks so damn beautiful!

    And finally an off-topic comment: July (in the US, fourth quarter in Europe), that’s how long we have to wait?? It sounds like one of those Hollywood movies where you wait a year after you the see their trailers. Sigh…

  15. January 10, 2007 by Collin Miller

    The company that makes this lays claim to the fastest one-handed keyboard and the quickest retraining. I’ve tried out their software emulation and the simplicity of it is brilliant.

    With the multi touch display this keyboard could be emulated on the surface of the device.

    Some sort of auditory tic could be funneled through the bluetooth headset for feedback.

  16. I don’t think the iPhone currently supports it, but tactile feedback on a touch-screen is possible…

    Immersion (the company that sued Sony over the DualShock’s rumble function) has a PDF at their site describing it.

    P.S. Why is it that we have to use Markdown instead of HTML (or MediaWiki’s “wiki markup”)?

  17. Putting aside the fact that the iPhone is coming to Europe by the end of the year (and I really hope that we get a 3G version, not the EDGE one), my main concern is the usability of the iPhone with one hand. I’m used to navigate my phone with just one hand and I really hope that the censorns in the phone can adjust well for your thumb movement for example.

    Never the less I think that this is an interesting head start for Apple towards mobile communicating. It’ll be interesting to see how this product develops in the future.

  18. That’s a good point you raise and echoes my own experience with the 3G iPod. As the keys are touch-sensitive and provide no tactile feedback they’re very difficult to operate in less-than-ideal situations — by the time you’ve oriented your hand to figure out which key it is you wish to press you’ve usually pressed the wrong one by accident. This is probably one of the reasons they scrapped this design, replacing it with the far superior click-wheel in later models.

    Agree with the comment above about one-handed use and would add durability concerns, i.e. how hard is it to scratch the screen, to the list. Still, it looks a truly amazing device and I want one, too!

  19. To pinch someone else’s joke: I don’t want a phone that can show me TV pictures, for the same reason I don’t want to be able to urinate in the washing machine.

    Because I already have a TV I can use for watching TV. Similarly, I have a digital camera for taking photos, and an MP3 player for listening to music while I’m out and about.

    What I do want a mobile phone for is to send and receive SMS text messages and voice calls. And that is it.

    And no, I’m not a technophobe :-)

  20. January 10, 2007 by JEREMY BROWN

    Totally agree with you Roger - the lack of a keypad was one of the things I was disappointed about.

    I just bought myself a SE K800i which I am well chuffed with. Not quite as well featured as the iPhone though but it does have a 3.2MP camera and built in flash.

    JackP: if you have an all-in-one device it saves you having to carry around multiple gadgets.

  21. I’ve got an LG chocolate phone that has a touch-sensitive keypad (only for some keys, not for the numbers) and I don’t really miss the tactile feedback. I think sound may be equally important… but then again, it could be different for different people. Personally I don’t care much for the iPhone but I seem to be an exception among designers :-)

  22. That’s an interesting point Roger. The idea of a small vibration could provide a pseudo-solution for non-sighted users. It promises a lot, I just hope that service providers will be willing and able to support it.

  23. If you want to feel the buttons, apply squares of transparent film at the appropriate locations on the screen.

    Either that or buy a Nokia.

  24. January 10, 2007 by Jesse C.

    Just last year I made the move to a Treo 650 from a typical LG flip. I hadn’t realized how familiar I had become with pounding out numbers on the numeric keypad without looking (and I am completely sighted). It is the only thing that I miss. I try to use the Treo’s keypad (a raised nub on the “5” gives me some reference) but it just not as easy.

    This is a great point, Roger.

  25. I don’t think that a touchscreen solution can be acessible, cause I think it´s impossible to print a reference like we have on the keyboard on both “F” and “J” letters, in my case or even, for a cell fone, the number “5”. This is a big problem, because, even that I have good eyes like you, I use this reference to make a call or type a message on my phone. I had a bad experience this year changing my phone brand because of it´s new capabilities. I lost usability, something that seens NOKIA does not no what it is and SIEMENS nows. But this is another problem. Now comming back to the non posting theme. Sometimes people do not post, because they will not receive any comment from it.

  26. Another point is the reduced space for the on-screen keyboard (as it seems). I have large fingers, so probably a keypad would be a better choice for e-mails.

    I´m waiting to see if the multi-touch is smart enough to avoid unwanted clicks.

    Additionally, this is not a device for women with nails.

  27. January 10, 2007 by Nadine

    And what if your are in really bright sunlight, will you still be able to read the screen, or will you need to find some shade to be able to make a call?

  28. That’s a great point that I hadn’t considered. I chose my current phone specifically because it has a very distinct “5” key, so I can easily dial without looking. I’ll be interested to see what measures (if any) Apple has taken to accommodate those that don’t like to look down all the time.

  29. A while back my bf pointed out to me the little “bumps” in the middle of my phone keypad. He had found out that they were there to help you identify and use the keys in case you are a) blind or low sighted or b) in a distressed situation where, for whatever reason, you can’t see the keypad.

    I think the iPhone has other issues (the long contract, Cingular as the crappy provider) but I agree this is a big usability/accessibility flaw.

  30. Revolutionaly means you’re not used to it at all.

    I was thinking yesterday, what if I used to find the button i want to press by feeling the surround ones? And what if I’m not the one? What if people use that gap on one or two button, that is telling you the coordinates of your finger? Every typing device has that gap or two, but what about iPhone?

    I’m little bit dissappointed by these thoughts.

    Will see…

  31. January 10, 2007 by Sean McGee

    In addition, it’s not accessible to the blind. So if you’re blind, don’t get an iPhone.

  32. January 10, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    I’m sure you’ll get tons of bluetooth mini keyboards from other vendors to send SMS the tactile way.

    Yeah, but who wants to keep a phone and a separate keyboard in their pocket?

    Why is it that we have to use Markdown instead of HTML (or MediaWiki’s “wiki markup”)?

    To keep this site valid.

  33. January 11, 2007 by David

    I wonder if Apple is familiar with Pulse-Touch technology. Pioneered by the people that make Alpine car stereos a few years ago. Its a tactile sensory technology for their LCD based car stereos (DVD or Nav) that lets you actually “feel” the software buttons on the radio’s screen when pressed, by a tiny electrical pulse to the display or some magic voodoo or something.

    A link to Alpine press release regarding unvailing of Pulse Touch in 2004.

    Maybe Apple should consider licensing this technology from Alpine. It sure would be cool if they did. It would solve a problem that I think a lot of people will be having with the iPhone when its released. Now if there was just a way to give this feedback to the proper people at Apple. However I have not found a way yet, since they don’t accept feedback on unreleased products.:-(

    Hopefully we’ll be able to sync our Address Book contacts and iCal calendars via Bluetooth by the time the iPhone ships. :-)

  34. Hey!

    I think that one handing typing could be the key. It did take everyone quite a while to come to grips with the multi button texting malarky, but the mind certainly has a way of adapting. This would also make the phone accessible to the blind, running osx? well put voiceover on it. From what I saw of the keynote, there are only 5 buttons on the home screen, each corner and center? any fool could do that. Audio feed back should also be no problem. The single handed typing, half querty, could resize to the users hand.

    I’m actually blind myself, and it does my nut that these cool devices are released, simplistic, eligant, durible, of course the ipod features make this aluring, and to navigate websites. With a little thought it is prety easy to adapt a product. apple, understandibly won’t do it, as they are not in the habbit of producing substandard work arounds, they like to keep it sleak. lets just hope they open it up, and some smart developer fancies this challenge.

    When i was younger i saw, i’ve not always been blind, a enactment of the future, one such device was very similar to this, showing the weather, comunication info, news. I really think this type of interface will stick around, improve hopefully, but i sinceerly hope that accessability isn’t hoofing it to keep up.

    Come on apple, give peace a chance, oop no, i mean developers.

  35. Apparently it’s not even 3G and doesn’t support MMS, can anyone confirm this?

  36. Paul Solecki: Apparently it’s not even 3G and doesn’t support MMS, can anyone >confirm this?

    At the keynote Steve Jobs said that Apple will be releasing a 3G phone in the future. I’m not sure but maybe the reason for choosing EDGE over 3G has something to with the networks in the U.S? Is 3G widely available there, I honestly don’t know. Apple hasn’t revealed if iPhone will support MMS.

  37. I have a QTEK phone with no keypad, instead it has virtual pad. I can say that I really miss a typepad. It´s a good thought but don´t work in real situations

  38. January 11, 2007 by cobey

    While I agree that there is a certain need for tactile feedback, you aren’t actually using that tactile feedback to navigate the keyboard, only as feedback that you did touch the keys. When you type you’ll have to learn the keyboard for a little while, but soon thereafter, you’ll just look at the content area as you would on any screen/keyboard combo.

    Your brain and motor skills just need to remember the location of the keys. Take for instance a guitar. A guitarist doesn’t need to look at the fretboard to play the right notes, he innately remembers the location. In order to ‘count’ the frets he would have to keep his fingers firmly on the board and move them. This doesn’t really happen, unless they are performing a slide, which is usually very fast that he wouldn’t be counting consciously anyway.

    So I think that you only need the tactile feedback for an additional confirmation that you hit a key. I’ve not seen / held the iPhone (definitely not a fan of the name), but it’s screen may have a bit of give to it and thus might be enough physical feedback for you.

    Just my view. Thanks!

  39. Somebody should make a separate revolutionary device for people who are unable to use this one. It would detriment progress to hack that kind of support into this new UI paradigm.

  40. A number of years ago I had a Samsung i300 which is a Palm OS phone. It did not have a keypad and used a touch screen for dialing. It was a big pain trying to dial a number, especially in bright sunlight.

    It did have speech recognition but you had to train it. If you used a headset and the phone microphone it would not recognize a contact if you had trained it with the built in microphone and were using a headset.

    Voice recognition is much better today than in the past, but it can still be very frustrating.

  41. The thing can beep at slightly different tones each time you tap the numbers!

    How great would that be ;)

  42. Why is it that we have to use Markdown instead of HTML (or MediaWiki’s “wiki markup”)?

    To keep this site valid.

    Yes, but MediaWiki also produces valid code, as do quite a few HTML comment systems. I can’t think of any case where running the comments through a server-side copy of HTML Tidy wouldn’t produce perfectly valid code, given the small number of elements generally used in blog comments.

    With all due respect,

    P.S. You apparently mean it when you say “…please use Markdown syntax” (emphasis mine), as you can still use HTML, and Markdown can be disabled by enclosing the comment in a div.

  43. January 15, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Yes, but MediaWiki also produces valid code, as do quite a few HTML comment systems.

    I had never heard of MediaWiki until you mentioned it, so I’ll check it out. I have no idea if it can be integrated into Movable Type though. Same thing for other commenting systems - unless they can be used with Movable Type, they’re out. And regardless of which one I use there will be people who are unfamiliar with its syntax.

    I can’t think of any case where running the comments through a server-side copy of HTML Tidy wouldn’t produce perfectly valid code

    I’ve tried that actually, but had no success in getting Tidy running on the server.

    And yes, some HTML is still allowed ;-).

  44. I had never heard of MediaWiki until you mentioned it, so I’ll check it out. I have no idea if it can be integrated into Movable Type though.

    It’s the open source software that runs Wikipedia (other notable implementations include Wikia and the Mozilla Developer Center). Last I heard (~6 months ago?), they were planning on branching the markup interpreter.

  45. Sadly the lack of a keyboard will leave out the Blackberry crowd. Why not put a tactile keyboard on the back…with an inch tall e-ink screen?

    Martin Tibbitts

  46. The Phraze-It soft keyboard for typing with your fingers right on the screen of PDA phones offers visual feedback for each key typed and optional audible feedback.

    Phraze-It has large buttons for typing directly on the screen with your index fingers or you can hold and thumb with the same hand.

    The full size keys are large but because of the reduced number of keys, there is ample room on the screen for viewing and editing many lines of text, just like at your computer.

    Prevalent Devices offers a full computer keyboard that fits on the screen of a PDA phone. Phraze-It is very accurate and comfortable for typing full documents, emails and mobile text messages.

    Forget about needing a minaturized QWERTY that either sacrifices screen space or thickens up the PDA phone.

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