April 2, 2009

Touch Screen Keypads Are The Way Of The Future

Numeric cell phone keypads may soon be going the way of the rotary dial, replaced instead by touch screen and "ËœQWERTY' keyboards that are increasingly taking their place.

At the CTIA Wireless show in Las Vegas this week, the largest wireless industry trade show in North America, there were only a few new mobile handsets on display with numerical keypads, with most having alphabetic keyboards or touch screens.

The changes are a nod to the growing ubiquity of text messaging and wireless Internet use.   Indeed, CTIA figures show that U.S. subscribers sent 1 trillion text messages last year, three times the number sent in 2007.   By comparison, the same people used 2.2 trillion minutes of voice calls, an increase of less than 5 percent.

This shifting ways in which people use their mobile phones has revolutionized cell phone design, with 31 percent of phones sold in U.S. stores during the fourth quarter of last year having alphabet keyboards.  This represents just a 5 percent increase from two years earlier, according to data from the NPD Group.

AT&T Inc., the nation's second-largest wireless carrier after Verizon Wireless, introduced six phones at the CTIA show, all of which had either a touch screen, a QWERTY keyboard, or both. Samsung Electronics Co., the largest seller of mobile phones in the U.S., displayed no new numeric keypad phones.

Meanwhile, Motorola, the biggest domestic maker of phones, unveiled just one low-end handset with a traditional numeric keypad. The company's biggest splash came from its Evoke model, which has a touch screen.  Although it is designed for the U.S. market, it does not yet have a carrier distribution agreement in place.

LG Electronics Inc. displayed its new GD900 handset, which appeared to tout both its numeric keypad and the ability to make it disappear.   A numeric keypad made of transparent plastic slides out from the phone's body, which users can see through.  However, it's not necessary to use the keypad since the screen itself is touch-sensitive.

Keyboards for text messaging are even becoming common and affordable in lower-end phones.   For instance, AT&T expects to sell two of the keyboard-equipped phones it unveiled, the LG Neon and the Samsung Magnet, for roughly $20 to $30.

However, conventional numeric keypads still will have a prominent market position, albeit mainly overseas, since demand for QWERTY and touch screen keypads are primarily driven by the North American market.  

Numeric keypads remain popular outside the U.S. because people in other countries began text messaging much sooner than U.S. wireless subscribers, and "became acclimated to texting with a keypad," NPD analyst Rubin told Reuters.

Additionally, high-end smart phones such as the Treo and the BlackBerry, which pioneered small versions of QWERTY keyboards, have had widespread influence on wireless preferences in the United States.  

Due to their popularity overseas, numeric keypads were still predominantly displayed by  Nokia Corp., the world's largest cell phone maker with a relatively small U.S. presence, and Japanese-Swedish manufacturer Sony Ericsson.

Other notable devices displayed at the CTIA event include the Samsung Impression, the first handset on the U.S. market that uses organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) rather than liquid crystal displays.  The OLEDs emit their own light instead of filtering fluorescent backlight the way traditional LCDs do.  As a result, they can save battery life and provide better overall image quality.  The Impression's 3.2 inch touch screen is able to show dark blacks and saturated colors, and includes a slideout QWERTY keyboard.  The handset will sell for $200 through AT&T beginning Tuesday (with a two-year contract).

AT&T unveiled the Nokia E71x, touted as the nation's thinnest smartphone at less than one half an inch thick.  Despite its size, the device includes a 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus.  The phone looks similar to the BlackBerry, and includes a QWERTY keyboard.   Nokia has struggled to penetrate the U.S. smartphone market, and similar Nokia handsets sold by AT&T in the past have been unable to crack the dominant market share of Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry.  The E71x will cost $100 (with a two-year contract), but AT&T has not disclosed a firm launch date.

Sprint Nextel Corp. unveiled the Samsung Instinct s30, a successor to the initial Instinct launched last year to rival Apple Inc.'s iPhone.  The new s30 boasts a thinner body and a more full-featured Web browser, and will be available April 19 for $130 (with a two-year contract).

Samsung announced its Mondi, a Web tablet for Clearwire Corp.'s WiMax wireless broadband network.  The device, whose underlying software is Windows Mobile, has a keyboard and a 4.3-inch touch screen.  Although laptops and modems are available for the Clearwire network, which is live in Baltimore and Portland, there has been no portable standalone device for Clearwire since Nokia discontinued its WiMax tablet in January.  

The Mondi will go on sale in the next three months, but the company did not disclose pricing.  The device does not work as a phone, but is able to run teleconferencing applications such as Skype.


Image Credit: Wikipedia


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