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The phone-makers bringing back buttons (bbc.co.uk)
89 points by ColinWright 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 144 comments

We need more buttons. What is the deal with flat design these days? I cannot figure out where to click. Have you used Windows 10 recently or a trendy website lately? It's a disaster in terms of UX.

The same problem exists with hardware as well. I'm specifically thinking of the kitchen, but I've encountered it in many places. I recently moved into an apartment with 'modern' appliances have substituted buttons for flat surfaces you press or knobs that are difficult and unintuitive. For the first time - I had to read the manual to figure out how to work my refrigerator, range, and microwave.

Buttons are intuitive, easy to use, and when they do not work it becomes apparent that something is broken or faulty. Why are we getting rid of them?

Steve Jobs answered this question back in 2007[0]

> Now, why do we need a revolutionary user interface. Here’s four smartphones, right? Motorola Q, the BlackBerry, Palm Treo, Nokia E62 — the usual suspects. And, what’s wrong with their user interfaces? Well, the problem with them is really sort of in the bottom 40 there. It’s this stuff right there. They all have these keyboards that are there whether or not you need them to be there. And they all have these control buttons that are fixed in plastic and are the same for every application. Well, every application wants a slightly different user interface, a slightly optimized set of buttons, just for it.

> And what happens if you think of a great idea six months from now? You can’t run around and add a button to these things. They’re already shipped. So what do you do? It doesn’t work because the buttons and the controls can’t change. They can’t change for each application, and they can’t change down the road if you think of another great idea you want to add to this product.

> Well, how do you solve this? Hmm. It turns out, we have solved it. We solved in computers 20 years ago. We solved it with a bit-mapped screen that could display anything we want. Put any user interface up. And a pointing device. We solved it with the mouse. We solved this problem. So how are we going to take this to a mobile device? What we’re going to do is get rid of all these buttons and just make a giant screen.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vN4U5FqrOdQ&t=323

He was wrong then, and he's wrong now. We know he is wrong because computers operate fine with 101 key keyboards just like they did 30 years ago. The million of applications produced since haven't required a new button on the keyboard every time.

Thankfully some sanity has reigned in car interiors and the manufacturers have realised the benefits to tactile feedback. He might be right when screens can reconfigure themselves with raised sections. Or mind control I guess.

It's all well and good saying he was wrong but the principles he outlines have been largely vindicated by the market.

Many things worked fine 30 years ago and yet have been immeasurably improved since - it's a tempting argument to not fix that which isn't broken, but ultimately a weak one. Also, there is little point in comparing computers, phones and car interiors. Incorporating physical buttons on phones involves a significant trade-off that is not an issue with computers. Car interiors are a different matter entirely. A more appropriate comparison might be conventional TV remotes vs the Apple TV remote. I've found the latter to be much more user friendly and intuitive.

> it's a tempting argument to not fix that which isn't broken, but ultimately a weak one.

I'm going to have to call shenanigans on this one. Sure, it's an alright attitude to have towards non-essential parts of your life/consumer experience, but imagine if mission critical stuff (like, flight consoles) changed on a regular basis - that would be completely insane.

Fortunately they don't, and fortunately neither do smartphones. They've been roughly the same for the past 12 years, right around the time people started to actually use them en masse. People are already adept at understanding how to use the on-screen keyboard when it changes, such as when it only requires numerical input, or when filling out an email address it helpfully puts the at symbol on the main screen rather than behind a shortcut, or more recent changes like buttons to suggest filling in a saved password for an app or website. These are barely hardships on the scale of unfamiliar flight controls for experienced pilots.

Car interiors are a wildly different use case. The safety concerns of operating a flat surface while driving and having to keep one's eyes on the road probably outweigh the benefits of a flexible UI design. In practice, however, the best approach seems to be a hybrid one: Keep basic, important functions physical, tactile, easily and blindly accessable while serving the details on a blank canvas.

For phones and tablets I prefer the giant screen approach.

I feel when people can make such blanket statements about what's right or wrong, they are only thinking about their own use case. Perfect example of what Jobs was talking about: the 101 keyboard works fine for the applications designed around it, but there are plenty of things for which something more optimised is a better fit. The argument about millions of applications not requiring specific buttons is a bit fatuous; there are plenty of examples of times when a physical keyboard could be insufficient for efficiently solving a problem on a smartphone without resorting to inventing a strawman set of millions of applications irrelevant to the specific domain of user input experience. I'll give you one example:

A lot of HN users seem only to write in English. I write in three languages, one of which is very different from the other two. Using one keyboard is possible on a PC, but would make for a lousy experience on a smartphone where the ideal layout for high speed typing in that latter language has nothing to do with the typical keyboard layout. To transplant this language's layout on to a shrunken down imitation of a full keyboard would be a productivity loss. This is a scenario where a physical keyboard on the phone would be a hinderance, not a help.

And that's not even considering many languages that are similar, use the same alphabet, or whatnot. They might be able to get away with the same physical layout, but now the manufacturers have to decide whether to print the legends on or near the keys with the standard US layout, UK layout, French AZERTY layout, and other layouts specific to each region, sometimes at great expense for relatively small markets.

That is if they can fit all the legends in. Some languages will still need a visible set of Roman characters, so not only will the local language's characters be printed on or near the letters, but so will the standard QWERTY layout, taking up valuable physical space, possibly necessitating a smaller phone.

I'm not mentioning what specific language I used that's quicker to type on a keyboard layout other than the standard PC one because it doesn't matter: it is within our capabilities to not have to manufacture a hundred different configurations of physical keyboard for smartphones and tablets for years, long before the arrival of the iPhone and iPad. Nobody needs to know what language it is because it doesn't matter: those who don't even vaguely consider the needs of international audiences as being first class, on the same level as the needs of US English users, don't have even the beginning of an understanding of designing products for international audiences.

The whole /world/ uses smartphones with touch screens. Not just business users, not just executives on meandering lunch breaks with their Blackberries; every day actual people who don't want to be bothered with which SKU to get in order to fully support their language, who don't touch type on regular keyboards let alone tiny ones, children, grandparents, and everything in between.

That's cool, but I think that most people here agree that mice are a pretty terrible method of interfacing with a computer. Every time you use a mouse, you have to re-orient your self to the state of the mouse (its current location and its use within a given application). That is why we spend so much time optimizing applications for use with a fixed controller (a keyboard).

A touch screen is a bit better than a mouse for lots of stuff and it preserves the discoverability of a mouse-based UI. Unfortunately it retains the drawbacks of a mouse based ui. Worse is that there is no fixed controller on a smartphone that might allow faster interaction w/ apps. This is where I think we are getting in trouble. In a traditional computer setup, you interact with the mouse when you are learning new software, and eventually transition to using a keyboard more and more. With touch based stuff, it seems like when an app is first released it has a simple, discoverable UI. But over time, as people become comfortable w/ the app, its UI becomes less approachable to suit the needs of more expert users and new users are left behind (snapchat for example).

In my opinion a touch screen is fine for consumptive devices where many different UI elements are required and input is light. Creative devices should have a fixed controller like a keyboard, joystick, etc.

That's cool, but I think that most people here agree that mice are a pretty terrible method of interfacing with a computer.

I think mice are excellent, and I think their longevity has proven that people like them, understand well how to use them, and that they are very useful for many computer tasks.

Touchscreens and digitizer tablets and trackballs and all sorts of alternate input methods have existed for thirty years or more, yet they have never broke into the mainstream on desktop computers for anything but niche applications.

The ergonomics and precision of a touchscreen on a desktop or laptop computer are generally abysmal. I can easily move my mouse one pixel at a time when doing graphics work and such with a mouse. Stuff like this is impossible with a touchscreen and big clumsy fingers.

Creative devices should have a fixed controller like a keyboard, joystick, etc.

Or maybe a mouse...

Somebody is a webdev who works in a terminal all day.

Mice are great. They can be used for drawing, dragging, context menus, scrolling, and to quickly and precisely select and manipulate distant controls. Those things are significantly more tedious when performed with a keyboard, or require pre-configured hotkeys. The mouse has stuck around for a reason.

Even worse, I am an operating systems dev. But to be specific, I agree that mice are a useful tool for some tasks. But novices use them like a hammer and everything becomes a nail.

Want to play an FPS game against me? you will use any combination of keyboard, joystick, touch screen you prefer.

Was that the internet equivalent of a "come at me bro"? My point wasn't that mice aren't useful, it was that UIs shouldn't _only_ use mice. Further, touch screens are in trouble because they are just like mice, but they aren't paired with a fixed controller.

Better stock up on mice to get through all the FPS games you have to play during a normal workday.

Jokes on you, I was an Esports "athlete" (World of Tanks)! :P

Keyboards are only faster if you have spent the time learning the shortcuts for a specific application.

With a mouse, you can use any application right away with no learning curve, and also interact with the content itself better than with a keyboard.

That is exactly my point. Touch screens don't have the faster thing to fall back on, so apps end up optimizing the touch interface for speed at the expense of discoverability.

> Every time you use a mouse, you have to re-orient your self to the state of the mouse (its current location and its use within a given application). That is why we spend so much time optimizing applications for use with a fixed controller (a keyboard).

No. This is wrong. The mouse is faster. Apple did that research, too -- and the mouse won every time:


Recognizing and pointing is always faster than remembering command sequences you have to press/type in. It imposes less of a cognitive burden too, which means you can focus more on the task you're doing and less on the interface itself.

Apple absolutely made the right call with a mouse-centric UI in 1984 and they made the right call with touch in 2007. That's why they're Apple -- you don't become the most successful and influential tech company in the world by making stupid choices.

No, I can definitely hit Alt-Q to close a window, or Ctrl-k to delete a line of text in emacs, before I even finish reaching for the mouse. I'll buy that some tasks maybe faster with a mouse, but not everything.

I remember Wozniak once said that if you wait long enough, what you said will be true.

Apparently he said once (a looooooong time ago) that a mouse is a useless device and nobody would need one. So with the use of the touch-screens mouse use will be reduced.

I have to say that although my laptop does have a very good touch-screen, I still use my mouse for 80% of the actions. Perhaps when browsing or changing windows (to continue browing) I may be using my fingers. But try to select text and change it to Bold on Word, when on the highest possible screen resolution, and well.. you know what happens.

Of course for small portable devices, such as a phone, to write a small note it 'good enough' when using the software keyboard, and the fact that the usual mode on smartphones is 'one-app-at-a-time' displayed on the screen, makes for a simpler UI and UX.

> Put any user interface up. And a pointing device. We solved it with the mouse. We solved this problem.

They solved the problem... by putting "exit, maximize, minimize" buttons at the top-right (or top-left) of every window. By putting "file, view, edit" dropdowns at the top-left of ever application. By putting "back, forward, refresh" at the top of the browser.

Not every application- I don’t see those buttons when dialing a phone number, or when watching a video or playing a game.

...and also by still having a keyboard with a fixed and standardized layout, which Jobs' argumentation conveniently ignores. I'd like to see how much of a success the Macintosh would have been with just a mouse ;)

The problem of how to use a fixed set of buttons for a variety of purposes was solved much longer ago by the designers of (military) aeronautical instruments: you put them on the edge of the screen which displays labels next to currently active buttons. You designate a few buttons to have fixed functions - that would be the home, back and switch buttons on Android - and leave the rest to be used by the current application.

As used by ATMs. Horrible UX in the age of touch screens. Why is this screen not responding to my touch? Oh, buttons...

And even then they don't align to the on-screen text.

Nothing keeps you from making those labels touch-sensitive 'in the age of touch screens'. That does mean they need to be bigger than necessary and it has the usual problems associated with touch screens - you need to visually locate the touch zone as there is no true haptic feedback - but it is possible.

There is no reason for the screen text not to align to the buttons other than sloppy design.

Like old Nokias. The ones I'm familiar with had two unlabelled buttons at the top of the keypad, with on-screen labels directly above them to signify what they did.

Yes, the system has been used in a limited fashion (two or three buttons on the bottom of the screen) by some manufacturers, Siemens (and their DECT-offspring Gigaset) is another example, as is Philips.

If your purpose is to allow the device to be used when it doesn't have your full attention - like a car radio, for example - I don't think that's a good solution.

I have a phone with a knurled power button, and a smooth flashlight button next to it. It's a minor example, but dynamically remapping those buttons would destroy a lot of their utility for me.

That is false analogy as you're opposing fixed-function devices - lamp and power - to a device which in principle has an unlimited number of functions. Even if it could also contains an unlimited number of buttons this would still not make it usable in situations where the user has to divide his attention between the device and some other task of higher importance like flying the aircraft and keeping sight of the opponent. That is just why they came up with this interface since it combines the advantages of haptic memory - button three on the left side does this in that situation - with unlimited functionality. All that it takes is a sure way to get the device in 'that situation' and a modicum of experience. A touch screen will never have this possibility as the user always needs to look at the screen to guide the digit to the target - unless the whole screen is turned into a single button of course.

Buttons on the side of the screen are not the correct user interface for all activities, as an example they would be inconvenient for browsing the web [1] and useless to sign for delivery of a parcel.

[1] ...but not impossible: number the links on the screen as if they are footnotes, number the buttons on the side, click the button which lies next to the desired number. If there are more links than there are buttons the last button can be used to select the next set of numbers. If there are zillions of links the last two buttons can be used to page through sets of numbers. Inconvenient, maybe, but it would work.

Steve Jobs was only correct in the context of a media consumption device. Having only physical buttons would prevent apps like YouTube from allowing users to select a timeline position to jump to that position in a video clip, and touchscreens are certainly better hardware for games like Bejewelled.

Where he was wrong is that professional use requires muscle memory to build mastery of the tool, and that the flexible nature of touchscreens fundamentally prevent people from developing muscle memory. Professionals derive enormous benefit from fixed-button interfaces that are impediments or limitations for the mass consumer market.

(Automobiles are the main exception to this rule, since they require blind usability, but most consumer products don't require blind usability.)

That's great, except it's not even remotely relevant to kitchen appliances.

Those have existed for decades with the same functions and each one of them does a particular task very well. Nor do you do anything on those devices that involves reading a lot of text or watching full screen video where buttons (or UI in general) could get in the way - the polar opposite of smartphones.

But what if you need to tweet using your smartfridge??

But seriously, you are exactly right. There is no need to retrain the user for no benefit.

I think that we've gotten some fantastic UI/UX designs that came from having to work within the limitation of pre-existing controller inputs. You also have the benefit of being able to assume that the user has some level of competency with the controller. Even with Jobs' example, UI/UX on computers generally remains the same within a given ecosystem as changing them forces your users to re-learn things that they already knew how to do. Individual products on that system mostly congregate to using the same patterns too so that they can reap the benefits of users being pre-trained to look for things to perform specific actions.

>And what happens if you think of a great idea six months from now? You can’t run around and add a button to these things.

No, you create a new product with the new buttons and sell something different to your competitors, now all the phones look the same, on top of that you have only 2 Operating systems to choose, there used to be creativity in the design of devices now they cycle from round edges to square and back.

But even iPhone have fixed hardware buttons. Why they are not replaced by pixels on the screen? Can you cite?

They replaced the home button with a digital indicator. You need a physical power button that'll work with the screen off so you can turn the phone on. Physical volume controls allow you to change the volume in your pocket without looking at your screen, and also allow you to force restart the phone. Not sure why the mute switch is still physical, but I don't mind it being physical (although it does get dirty over time).

So, if we need to do something without looking at the screen, we should keep hardware buttons, right? And if we don't need that, if we are looking at the screen _with_ buttons already, then hardware buttons are redundant.

Except in the case where the stupid thing freezes and you can't interact with it anymore, then you need a physical button to smother it so you can start it back up again.

I'm actually afraid to buy a new car for this very reason.

All of my favorite cars now have a giant iPad in the console and almost no physical buttons.

When I'm barreling down the interstate and want to change the music, I don't want to fiddle around with a touch screen that requires any sort of attention.

This x1000. I really wish touchscreen displays were illegal for vehicles. Everything should be done through dedicated buttons and multi-function keys. They've started doing this in aircraft as well and it's infuriating. Try typing in an airport, squawk code, or frequency on a tiny touchscreen display with moderate turbulence in IMC. Not fun...

This is surprising, I thought air regulations were strict enough to allow this not to happen.

I think there are ways this could be overcome, and the screen could be way, wayyyy better.

1. Default presets. When you enter the car, you press a menu option to immediately set the car to all your settings (radio to the right station, GPS app opens,seat moves, etc.) (could be done with a button too honestly

2. Increased primary element size - Use 90% of the screen to display the setting you are changing so you don't have to look directly at it. Reduce the size of options you are not currently interested in changing.

3. Gestures - Use gestures to change settings using your muscle memory, not eyes.

4. Use the iPad to display video that helps you drive (blind spot, backup camera)

5. Use of color - When you crank the heat the screen is cast to in a red shade. Make it more intuitive at the subconscious level.

6. Full use of screen to make a change - When you want to adjust with a button or knob, you have to get your hand exactly on that button or knob. But on a screen, you could swipe left anywhere and get the same effect. This would use significantly less attention.

7. Contextual UI - The car notices the windows are fogging up and prompts if you want to turn on screen defrosters.

8.Multiple UIs and UI customizability. Don't like this UI? Try this one! Or just change the one little setting that annoys you. It's your damn car.

9. Stopped? Here's something interesting put on the screen so you stay engaged.

10. Safety tips (stats on your driving, or suggestions on ways to drive safer)

11. Haptic feedback - When you make a change, the screen could vibrate to indicate the change was received

12. Shortcuts - Have your favorite driving settings most conveniently available

13. There's probably more, but if I wrote a 13th one, it would be unlucky! :P

Mode-based UIs on touch screens don't work well when you need to keep your eyes on the road. The reason traditional dashboards are so easy to use while driving is because each control is always in the same place and can be located and used without seeing it.

Most cars have a fixed set of dash controls: climate, audio, and possibly navigation. Climate controls can easily be just three dials and a couple of buttons (temperature, fan speed, vent direction, and AC/recirculate buttons). Audio can be 4-6 preset buttons and a volume knob, and maybe some little treble/bass/fade/balance knobs. Yet many vehicles completely screw this up.

> 9. Stopped? Here's something interesting put on the screen so you stay engaged.

This one has a very high risk of quickly degrading into my car dashboard showing me advertising when I am stopped.

And the last thing I want is the car I own to be usurped to become yet one more way for the advertising industry to shove ads. at me.

Haptic feedback is a nice idea, but I wouldn't be surprised if the software people screw it up. I've lost count of the number of devices and software UIs that give incorrect feedback: they sometimes beep/flash when the change has not been received, or they sometimes register the change without the usual beep/flash.

Have I encountered a device/UI that errs in both ways? Yes, I think I have: a microwave that beeps and increments the time when you press a button labelled "10 s", but if afterwards you squint carefully at the almost illegible LCD display you find that the number of beeps may differ from the (time / 10 s) by a positive or a negative small integer. There must be two separate button-press-detectors: one for incrementing the time, and one for the "feedback".

Do we have a term for this phenomenon? It's common enough to deserve a name.

I think this is just considered poor/inconsistent feedback:


>> and the screen could be way, wayyyy better.

When I'm driving, I want to concentrate on the road and on driving. Tell me, why the steering wheel is not just a picture on a touchscreen? When I'm changing gears, switching on the lights, opening windows, I have physical buttons and knobs, I can just do all that still driving and watching the road. I don't want to gaze at the touchscreen while driving. In many countries using phone kept in hand while driving is illegal, because it causes many accidents when people concentrate more on the screen than on driving.

I wanted to buy a new car, all that I saw have the new touchable interfaces. That's terrible and unsafe.

Which cars? BMW? No. Mercedes? No. Ford? No. etc... only Tesla is going this way.

> Buttons are intuitive, easy to use, and when they do not work it becomes apparent that something is broken or faulty. Why are we getting rid of them?

Because of some silly idea of what makes something feel modern.

The worst case of this in cars. Steering wheel controls wouldn't need to be a thing if I could reach towards my stereo and feel where the track skip buttons are without having to take my eyes off the road.

Re: steering wheel controls, you don't think it's an improvement to be able to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel?

Those who drive manual cars are frequently removing a hand from the wheel to adjust an aspect of the car without looking and I would be surprised if the momentary loss of a hand on the wheel would mean manual drivers had more accidents than automatic drivers.

Re: steering wheel buttons in general, it depends on how they're implemented. If you take an old idea [1] and provide tactile locating then it is easy to learn. If you can reuse a common paradigm (a knob for volume) there's no learning required. The steering wheel also is already a busy place - you have two or more stalks nearby, sometimes cruise control is part of the steering wheel buttons and even if not the amount of space means you are forced to provide a subset of functions. A stereo with tactile-marked buttons and knobs is known to most drivers via other paradigms and is easy to swap between cars.

[1]: https://patents.google.com/patent/US2350059A/en

There's really no need for more than one hand on the wheel unless you're turning, in which case you shouldn't be using radio controls anyway.

Just don't ever: grow old, break an arm/hand, become disabled, get weakened by illness, or be born a smaller person. Then yes, you'll always have an extra hand for off-wheek controls.

I'm a short guy who has driven my manual car while my right hand was basically a stump from having a knife put through it and having it bandaged up. I did drive slower in general as I couldn't shift as fast and it hurt to do so using the stump, but otherwise I was fine with one hand on the wheel.

For everyone else, we've had automatic cars for forever. There's also a video online of a man with no arms who learned how to drive their car without them.

Edit: changed to be specific about the one hand on the wheel.

Applies to manuals too.

It take about 1.5 seconds to move the gear shift. You can wait that long before changing the radio station.

Downvoted because this doesn't address the underlying point: differently abled people are just as important. And if their needs can be met with so little extra effort then why push back so hard?

Consider that at a critical moment the difference between moving a thumb and moving ones whole arm and hand could be the difference between life and death.

EDIT: fixed typos

That is an odd reason to downvote considering the comment I replied to didn't mention that at all.

Fair enough. I thought it was replying to the comment by ellard.

Steering wheel controls are less cognitive load than fumbling on your dash, even if you keep your eyes on the road you're still distracted.

I have physical buttons on my stereo but still choose to use steering wheel controls. It is easier and feels much safer especially when I feel like I need both hands on the wheel.

I wish Spotify on Android Auto would take this feedback.

Seriously, a rotary knob can switch focus to the next/previous UI control, so that additional push of tactile button on said rotary knob will activate the control, but they can't simply detect the rotation as 'next/previous', with the push button as 'pause/play' toggle?

Instead I have to rotate the nob and visually track the thin active element outline each time I enter or swap to the app just to get a single tactile 'forward' control. Or, I give up, and continue the process of memorizing the button location on the screen and building muscle memory through repetition to correctly press the same spot on the screen each time without looking at it. Then hope I never need to be in a different car or that nobody adjusts my seat's X/Y/Z axis to screw up that muscle memory.

I suspect it's Spotify's issue, and not Android Auto itself, but most of the Android Auto apps work that way and I don't know where the fault originates. But regardless of who can fix it, it's horrible to allow UX to be designed ignorantly when it is placed to have potential life/death impact.

> Why are we getting rid of them?

Because they break easily. The home button is probably one of the most commonly broken parts of an iPhone, so the X doesn't come with one: ta-da, can't break it any more. Plus, if it's on a screen, you can have an unlimited combination of buttons whenever you want - think of the screen real estate freed up by using an on-screen keyboard on the iPhone compared to a Blackberry.

For what it's worth, I agree with you that buttons are better. But their disappearance isn't a random occurrence.

Home buttons break? Do you mean break in the UX/UI or physically break?

I've worked at a phone repair shop for the last 2 years, and I mainly work on iPhones. Very, very rarely are home buttons broken outside of a repair. Usually when they are broken the phone isn't in.... great condition. In fact I'm not sure I recall a home button ever being broken without the rest of the phone being completely shattered.

I'm surprised! I know at least a few friends that have enabled the accessibility mode home button because their hardware button is broken. Obviously way, way more people have their screens break but in my anecdotal experience a broken home button is not uncommon.

Here's a fun one too: iPhone 7's and up don't have clicky home buttons. They vibrate to simulate a "click", although it is still a separate piece from the rest of the phone. Try turning one off and pressing it, they don't physically move.

Having the accessibility mode isn't uncommon, I only see phones for a short amount of time and mostly do a quick test, so I'll admit if a button is intermittent I might not catch it.

I will say breaking home buttons during repairs aren't uncommon though, it really depends on how honest the repair shop is. Even veterans can have issues with the home buttons because their cables are _sooooo_ thin, they're glued in place, and even the tiniest tear can mean it's done for. Touch ID can never be replaced and as of 7's and up they cannot be functionally replaced.

That may be your experience, but I think OP was trying to say that stuff with more moving parts has more points of failure than stuff with no moving parts.

> I think OP was trying to say that stuff with more moving parts has more points of failure than stuff with no moving parts

That's a reasonable point, but it seems they've chosen to illustrate the point with an example that isn't true.


That was the first time I heard of the iPhone home button breaking.

> What is the deal with flat design these days? I cannot figure out where to click. Have you used Windows 10 recently or a trendy website lately? It's a disaster in terms of UX.

Google's Material design system actually works well when implemented correctly. If you look at Inbox, you can see at least three distinct layers on the home screen with drop shadows clearly indicating the hierarchy.

The problem is that lots of people tried to copy this system without understanding why it works and ended up with unusable messes.

Material Design was an evolution from the flat design wave (it's still flatter than peak skeumorphism, but it's not really flat.) I'm not sure that the continuing flat design trend is so much of a bad copy of MD as a trend which preceded MD and continued outside of it.

i agree about Windows 10. God forbid you put Windows Explorer over something that has a white background as well. There is no way to tell where the top of the window is since Windows Explorer will blend into the white background. Why couldn't they at least put a border around the window or something.

I think you'd like this scene from Mon Oncle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LE9t98Gox60

The worst thing about these flat control surfaces for appliances is the cheap plastickey film degrades over time. Knobs and Buttons break too, but you can fix them or replace them physically. Cheap phones get replaced every couple of years, (so wear and breakdown may be slightly more forgivable) but appliances are expected to last a while longer.

Bold prediction: it will be a total flop. A tiny minority of people want a keyboard at the price of a bulky device

Not that bold of a prediction.

Motorola was leading the way with Android-based phones with physical QWERTY keyboards, but they stopped making them in 2012, with the Droid 4 being the last one. I had one and I loved it!

The sad thing is, I saw polls at the time showing over 50% of smartphone users said they wanted a physical keyboard, yet most people hadn't even HEARD of the Droid 4. It sold poorly and was the signal that people didn't actually want physical keyboards, they just thought they did.

> I saw polls at the time showing over 50% of smartphone users said they wanted a physical keyboard

The key words being "said they wanted." It's not uncommon for there to be a big divergence between what people say they want, and what it turns out they actually want. Sometimes they just don't know what they really want until they see it. Sometimes they use the wrong words and say they want one thing but really want another. Sometimes they know how to express what they want, but feel it would be socially unacceptable to say it out loud, so they claim to want something else to avoid being the odd one out.

It would therefore not surprise me one bit if lots of people said they wanted a physical keyboard, and then went out and bought an iPhone-alike. Maybe it looked sexier on the sales floor, maybe they tried the touchscreen and found they actually liked it, or maybe just because that's what all their friends had.

If you want to know what people really want, don't listen to what they say, watch what they do.

The only thing that killed the Droid line was Google buying Motorola. A Droid 5 was in development right up until Google bought it and decided that everyone should have the same form factor of phone. You can find pictures of the 5 online.

They still produced phones with the Droid name (I replaced my Droid 4 with the Droid Turbo), but they lost the keyboard.

And IMO, Google failed to market the Droid phones. In a world where everyone's crying for better battery life and stronger screens, the Droid Turbo came out with a whopping 3900 mAh battery when everyone else was in the 2000-2,500 mAh range, and a screen that was damn near indestructible, probably the top two most asked for features from a phone...yet nobody ever heard of it. Meanwhile people flock to iPhones and Galaxy phones which would crack their screens if you sneezed.

By "killed the Droid line", I was referring specifically to the keyboard slider line Droid/Droid 2/Droid 3/Droid 4. And I think that happened almost solely because Google did not like the keyboard slider form factor.

A surprisingly large contingent of consumers liked keyboard sliders too. Silicon Valley folks pretend that users didn't want them, but the truth was that at the time, phone technology was moving much faster, and keyboard sliders usually came out running a year older chipset, and were the last to see software updates. People didn't want to give up their keyboard sliders, but the OEMs just weren't serving the market.

I also would prefer a phone with a slide out physical keyboard. But due to economies of scale, manufacturers now want to produce a single hardware design for worldwide sale. It's just too expensive to produce separate models for every language.

I still have my old Photon Q (Sprint equivalent of the Droid 4) and the keyboard is amazing to type on. The device isn't in use anymore, but I do miss physical keyboards. I think people look at stuff a lot more than they type stuff.

My phone use has gone way down because I have a giant device with no physical keyboard (iPhone 6S). I used my Photon Q and iPhone 5C a lot more than I use my current 6S. Now I just use laptops.

I still own Droid4 and 4 other Droid's for spare parts. Two batteries are dead now, one battery is weak, but two batteries are still usable, so I can use my Droid 4 for next two or three years. I like to enter text using Droid 4 when I outside.

Same thing with phones with headphone jacks. The collective internet wisdom is that all phones must have headphone jacks, full stop. From a marketplace perspective, it doesn't really matter much to consumers at all.

Heh yeah...

The advice of "If you want a phone with a headphone jack, then don't buy a phone without a headphone jack" can be considered controversial. People forgot how to vote with their wallet.

iPhone versus Samsung Galaxy is a false dichotomy. There are so many phones out there that it's very likely there's one that meets most if not all of your desires. It just might not have an Apple or Samsung logo on it.

I bought a Blackberry KeyOne last summer. It took a week to adjust, but I'm content. I hope this option continues to be available - after years putting up with all-glass phones, I'm happy to have a keyboard again, and I'm willing to pay extra for it.

Here’s the thing, you’ve got a bigger phone anyway, look at the size of iPhones now compared to iPhone 5. I loved the smaller form factor as it could be used with only the thumb.

I’ve surrendered and now own a “manbag” so u can bend at my hips properly when carrying my phone.

It will be a hit with business people.

Blackberry and before that Nokia Communicator were hits. When you need to work with the phone, like write emails, instead of just browsing the social media, small keyboard is great.

And people who hate touchscreens. I got my first smartphone in the summer of 2017, when I moved from a Samsung clamshell phone to a Blackberry KeyOne.

The KeyOne was in such high demand, they were sold out on every online store! I ended up buying a used-like-new one off eBay for slightly over MSRP.

Since then, I purchased a new KeyOne Black Edition just to ensure they keep making these devices. Being able to scroll without touching the phone's screen? Game changing tech, folks.

Every time I'm forced to use someone else's smart phone, I struggle to type on the virtual keyboard. Even after years of poking at the things, I can't type without typos on those awful screens. Somehow, the KeyOne's keyboard is incredibly easy to type fast on--even with my huge fingers.

I'm a long time Galaxy Note (2-8) user considering a Key Two instead of waiting for the N10. I realized that my dissatisfaction with smaller devices is not a want of screen area, but of better input ergonomics, and that an ever larger expanse of glass delivers diminishing returns that never quite replace or compensate for the loss of tactile key feedback and off-sightline muscle memory typing. It's come to the point that I still keep an old BB Curve around, tethered to hotspot on my primary phone, just to use BBSSH with minimal risk of stray (or sniffed) keypresses.

Have you tried one of those K2 units and if so, what was your opinion vs the K1? Is there anything particularly unique to the BB flavored Android on these devices? I loved the system-wide search from within any app, even more than the stellar messaging system.

Unfortunately, I've never used a K2. I had someone sitting next to me at a restaurant show me his, he was psyched to find another KeyX user!, but I didn't ask to try out the keyboard. Reviews of the Key2 mention they made the keys slightly larger to make them easier to use. Whatever the change, I can't imagine it'd be any less pleasurable to type on.

I have huge hands, but don't have a problem typing on the Key1. The K2 should be more comfortable for epic typing sessions.

BB's Android is bone stock in appearance. Their built-in BB apps are excellent--especially the camera app. I much prefer them over Samsung and HTC's apps. They're similar in function to my wife's Sony Xperia.

They still have the classic suite of BlackBerry tools, such as that system-wide search. The map-to-whatever-you-want key on the right hand side can be setup to launch that search.

And you can map every single key on the keyboard (and combinations of keys!) to shortcuts from the "desktop."

It's a great phone. It's not going to be as fast as the Galaxy Note, but if you're interested in incredible battery life (I charge mine once a week) and a fantastic typing experience... You won't regret trying the K2. Worst case? You use it for a few weeks then sell it for the full purchase price on eBay. Resale prices seem to still be running high, last I checked.

I’m not sure why the device would have to be bulky. BlackBerry phones were less massive than most flagship phones today.

The example in the article appears to have the same screen size as a current-gen flagship phone. If you're going to keep the same screen, battery, etc and add a keyboard, it pretty much has to be bulkier.

Yes, but the point I was trying to make is that it's a design decision. It's perfectly possible to make a small phone with QWERTY hardware keyboard and flagship specs, even if no one is planning to do it right now.

With bluetooth keyboard and cover it even bulkier.

We're into 2 generations of people now that have been raised on touchscreens. It's a guaranteed flop.

If people are going to be sold on bulkier devices, it will be for functionality other than a keyboard.

Besides, bluetooth keyboard cases are already a thing if you want to trade bulk for easier typing.

Or more people will discover they actually hate touchscreen keyboards, but they had no other option. Not everyone is like you.

It's not about bulk. I gladly traded display size for physical keyboard, on my BB KeyOne. This very comment is written on it, with pleasure.

You're going to give up something, whether it's bulk, water/dust proofing, or other specs.

Or in the case of this device, all of the above and more compared to flagship phones.

I have no particular love for touchscreen keyboards (though I find that I can type just as well on them as I once did on my droid's physical keyboard). I'm thinking about the mass western market, which isn't going to want to make the tradeoffs this phone offers.

Possibly that isn't the market they want, but rather a low volume niche.

I used to be able to type in a lightning-fast way, while looking ahead (not down!) and walking quickly, on the Sidekick. I had every Sidekick model including a big bag of parts since, well, the older ones weren't super reliable. That said, I'd give anything for that experience again. In fact, as I typed this on an Android phone, I probably hit backspace at LEAST 50 times, corrected about 10 words due to typos (wprds showed up, with words as an option, etc.)

The size of my thumb covers about 8 keys.

The lack of physical keys may be amazing from a UI perspective, but for people who type quickly it absolutely sucks.

What's a shame is there's no choice.

The one that gets me is that there isn't an easy way to get to the center of a word, you always miss then tap again but if you are too quick it thinks you want to select and bleh, it's just unpleasant, I'd happily give up the predictive word bar on Android for arrows and cut paste buttons.

This annoyed me too, until recently. I found the solution to this on my phone. It's a moto G with a physical volume button on the side. It has Lineage OS on it and I found this: settings -> buttons -> Volume buttons -> Keyboard cursor control (Volume up/down moves cursor left/right). I can now easily control moving the cursor one char left/right and am slightly more comfortable typing on my phone.

If you are using gboard you can swipe on the space bar to move the carat.

There is choice... buy a blackberry or any of the other phones with hardware keyboards.


As far as I can tell, your main choice there is a Blackberry Key2. There's not a heck of a lot of variety in hardware-keyboard phones...

I agree there might not be a wide range of choice but this runs the most popular operating system, has arguably one of the best keyboards from legacy phone manufactures who's focus was keyboard input and up to date specs. Not only is it not "no choice" it would probably be one of the better choices had we a wider range available.

One option means no choice :)

I have a Key2 and I'm fairly happy with it (and the pain points are more with Android than with the phone itself).

It has excellent reviews minus the camera (and lack of water resistance). I may give it a shot, thanks.

I can easily type without looking at the iPhone at all. And it is much faster than i was able on HTC G1. It hard to explain, but iOS is much better in user input.

I can biased: I am writing software for androids since first public beta version and for iOS since ios 7 version.

I was also quite happy with the form factor of the Sidekick, and would love to see another one. It’s almost too bad that those people went on to build Android.

They'll never do so but I would love it if Apple would add a physical sliding keyboard like the Pro 1. I really really dislike the virtual keyboard, always have. It's so inaccurate. Granted that's because I'm a touch-typer and probably move too fast.

Please do this. Slide out keyboards are really something I miss. The touch screen keyboard never respond properly and I have so many typos, the autocorrect suggest things that aren't even words... with a qwerty keyboard 99% of those issue are null and void.

You can learn to type very quickly on a touchscreen keyboard and work within and be helped by the autocorrect. If you’re typing a couple of sentences why does it even matter that you’re not up to full keyboard typing speed? Sure, if you’re typing an essay, but why would you be doing that on your phone anyway?

For some peiple their phone is tgeit obly ximouting sevice, so it isoften necessary to type 'an essay'.

Combuninh autocotrection with a ohyscial keyboatd wouuld be verybpowerful and would probavly have avoidwd most of the wrrors I made whilat typing this in a touchscreen keyboard.

-- I deliberately disabled autocorrection for that post. I am a keyboard touch-typist so hopefully that shows how inefficient and error-prone are soft-keyboards.

Basically, removing physical keyboards makes the manufacturers' job easier by outsourcing a little bit of inefficiency onto every user every time they type. We're paying for it with seconds of our lives.

That’s misleading and you know it. Nobody suggested that we type without autocorrect. What the GP said is that you can learn to type efficiently without looking on a touch screen keyboard because autocorrect is good enough. Yeah, I had a Motorola Milestone (EU version of the droid) and I could type without looking. It was pretty nice being able to type that way. But in no way would I want to go back to such a brick in my pocket.

I haven't done any formal experiments but it sure feels like autocorrect hurts newly as much as it helps. I'm constantly having to stop and retire words that it gets wiring.

I quite like the design philosophy behind the Punkt phones. It looks like the MP01 is 2G only which would disqualify it for U.S. use. For the MP02 they say

> "Please note that some mobile phone service providers in the USA have not yet finished registering the MP02 for their networks.Because of this, some carriers currently require users to temporarily disable VoLTE on the MP02 (use 4G or 3G calling instead), and Verizon's network is currently unable to accept the MP02 at all. (This is an admin issue, not a technology issue.)"

Anyone who has actually used this device in the U.S. who can share experience? It sounds like you would still be able to use it as an LTE hotspot, but for voice you'd fall back to 4/3G.

When the first smartphones were released with a distinct lack of buttons, I was dismayed mainly because you needed to look at your phone before you could answer it. I just assumed that somewhere, someone would be developing a tactile feedback system so that you could feel buttons on the screen. I'm still waiting for that day...

For all that, I'm using swipe to write this message, faster than I could on a mini qwerty. I don't see this article's development as, development.

I aleays loved these qwerty phones. Ever since I had an Xperia X1 I was hoping for a more modern tske on something like thst with s similar design, a metallic all-screen keyboard slider with something more modern than Windows Mobile 6.

Here’s hoping for at least a small-scale trend of these devices this year.

Five row keyboard, slide-tilt screen, and two-stage camera button? If that thing has anywhere near the build quality of its Nokia inspiration, I can't throw my money at them fast enough.

Is there a case that has a slide-out mini bluetooth keyboard?

Maybe Blackberry could make one, their keyboards were awesome. I might even pay $50-100 for some such thing if it is designed right.

You could try one of the BlackBerries with an integrated keyboard, not slide-out. The Key2 is pretty great, though you do lost a little screen real estate. The keyboard is also touch sensitive, so you can choose predictions and move the cursor with it, as well as scroll the page. I like the backspace word gesture (swipe left across the keyboard) on my Key1.

jolla has an "other half" keyboard like that for their phone but it's running sailfish not android.

BlackBerry phones have buttons and their software is quite nice.

BB phones use almost stock Android, if anyone's wondering.

There's currently a $10K bounty to crack BlackBerry's Android protections so you can root the phone. It's been ~3 years and no one's managed it yet...

Fortunately, there's minimal Google presence on the phone. The native BlackBerry apps have worked great. The camera on the KeyOne even has fully manual controls--focus distance and everything.

I hope we do see some of these models come back. I know that it will probably be a small market segment, but I really liked my Samsung captivate glide.

Here's what I'd rather have: Two independent devices that can be yolked together for use. Physically, metaphorically, or both.

The keyboard section on some of those devices is almost as big as the phone, and those phones don't look much thinner than current generation phones do.

Let me use two phones or a phone and a tablet or a phone and a TV. Give me something that is at least the sum of its parts.

Can anything every be (physically) less than the sum of its parts? In terms of mass or volume, for example?

If you're saying "an accessory that only works as an accessory is sometimes just dead weight (when you're not using it)" then I think you're trying to overturn a lot of precedent in how devices have been made, since long before digital times.

Things that fit together can be less than the sum of their parts. A phone case and a phone can take up more space individually but fit together and be compact.

That's true if one considers the convex hulls of the two objects, but not if one sticks to thinking strictly about their volume.

When I said “almost as big as the phone” I didn’t mean square inches. I meant volume. Look at those things. That’s not an unused accessory like a port or jack. Its making your phone half again as big. It’s a third of your phone doing nothing.

We just went through this battle. Thin phones won. Danger is out. So is Nokia. It’s possible this is a fashion statement and those can and change, but whoever tests that theory had better be prepared to fail. And if it *is down to fashion? Expect to lose your keyboard again in another ten years.

As a long-time owner of HTC TyTN II and Sony Xperia Pro, both with sliding keyboard which I absolutely loved, I don't think we need them anymore. Back then, it made sense. Displays were smaller and less accurate. But now with larger displays and smarter autocompletes, I'm not willing to trade sliding keyboard for additional weight and higher price.

The HTC Tilt 2 is still my favorite phone ever. Superb keyboard and the slide/tilt mechanism was rock solid and quite pleasing to use too. WinMo, being as hackable as it was, allowed me to remap keys at will, which made it a great mini ssh device.

I'm just gonna say it. The G1 was the best phone I've used. Not had, used.

The article says the prototype was inspired by the "Nokia 950" - I'm assuming they mean N950? I had two N900s - I hope the keyboard is far more robust than that as the labels on the keys wore off in weeks / months.

My first smart phones something like 15 years ago had these, and I would love to have that functionality back without a doubt.

I would love a slider keyboard phone again.

I'd buy a phone with a horizontal slider so hard, if it wasn't running Android. As badly as I'd like to have a proper successor to my Droid 4, that other trait makes this a problematic sell for me. :/

Would you actually buy it if it ran _anything_ other than Android (say, somebody somehow managed to ship a new phone running Symbian)? Or do you actually have a preferred OS?

Actually just curious to see if you're specifically avoiding Android (in which case I'd be a bit curious about specific reasons), or if you prefer something like iOS. (Both seem like valid positions for me)

I'm currently hanging onto a Windows Mobile phone, though support ends in December, so I have to start looking for a replacement. I once swore I'd never own an iPhone, but if nothing else shows up, I guess I'll have to. My hope is that the Librem 5 launches on time and is capable of supporting a Verizon compatible radio (the radio is supposed to be replaceable).

My primary interest is security and privacy, so Android fails out entirely as an option. I also expect my phone to have current and regular security updates, so the operating system must be something presently supported.

History is going in circles

nope nope nope no thanks

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