This is yet another case of mobile being so counter-intuitive. Common sense suggests that a laptop (or netbook or desktop PC) keyboard is better than a phone keypad. If you write a response to this blog story, it is far easier to type it with a full QWERTY keyboard on a laptop PC than tripple-tapping on a phone keypad.
And lets be clear. I'm not considering some advanced smartphones like the Blackberry with its mini-condensed QWERTY keyboards or the Apple iPhone with its virtual keyboard in its touch-screen, or the wide full QWERTY second keyboard insde the fold-design of a Nokia Communicator. No, I mean to argue that the inputs of a modern mainstream mobile phone are not only equivalent to, but actually better than the inputs of the modern laptop or netbook (or desktop PC).
And yes, lets start with numbers. I have a slightly older laptop which has a typcal laptop QWERTY keyboard with 82 keys. But being a higher-end laptop, it also has a ton of other function and utility buttons from the power on/off switch, the docking station and PCMCIA slot removal buttons and the laptop catch, to misc function buttons etc. So in total the laptop has 92 keys or buttons.
Now, my Nokia N82 is hardly a mid-range phone, but it the simpler of the two I use. It has 23 buttons and controls incuding a 12 button triple-tap alpha-numeric keypad and then many usually multi-purpose buttons to do various other controls from the on/off switch to music sound control to the camera lens cover switch. Obviously the various buttons on the N82 are very small and usability is compromized. This is not a phone you want to use if you need to type up a long document like a book or say, this blog story (I am writing this on the keyboard of my laptop, again seemingly disproving the very premise of this bog story).
MORE NOT ALWAYS BETTER
We think more keys or buttons is better because for our uses in text-entry, the PC keyboard (for us) seems better than the little keypad of the phone. It seems like more is better. But now lets take another use of the PC, videogaming. And compare the laptop keys to the Playstation controls. The PS controller has only a dozen or so keys. So you'd think that if a kid was given the chance to play the same using the PC keyboard or a Playstation style keypad, they'd prefer the PC. Wrong. Any heavy-users of Playstation style gaming will prefer the controls on the PS keypad, even though it has far less keys. its because the keypad is optimized for game play. The buttons are far more comfortably placed to fit the different fingers and in heated game play, allow a more comfortable grip and control of the various buttons. The sheer number of keys is not automatically better.
NUMBERS IS NOT NUMBERS
So of we think 92 buttons on the laptop vs 23 buttons on the premium smartphone, its easy to assume the laptop is "4 times better" in its input. But this is not a fair comparison. The PC keyboard is a relic of two old and indeed obsolete technologies - the typewriter and the text entry based (DOS based) personal computer from an age before the Mac and all subsequent windows and graphical user interface based computer applications.
Look at your computer keyboard. Look at that whole row of "Function Keys" F1, F2, F3 etc up to F12. How many of those do YOU use. Not all. But how many of those do regular cnosumers use? Almost none. Perhaps F1 for help? But beyond that, the F-keys are all ignored by regular mass market consumer PC users. Thats 12 wasted keys right there. The Function keys were needed in an early age of the personal computer, in the time of WorldStar and WordPerfect. They are a relic, and almost totally un-used. A waste of buttons. For almost all mainstream users, the total functionality they possibly use with the 12 Function keys could be reduced to two keys and we'd eliminate 10 wasted keys.
There are also many keys that were once needed for various applications or specialized uses, which really have no mass market need. Take the Tilde for example - this character ~ which looks like a wave. How often do you use the tilde daily? Weekly? MonthlyHow about the (broken) upright line - this character | which displays sometimes as a solid line and sometimes a broken line with a small space inbeteween. And there is redundancy. W have two CTRL buttons, two ALT buttons and THREE shift buttons (counting the CAPS LOCK as the third shift button). In reality the laptop probably has 70 or 75 buttons that we ever will use, out of the nominal 92 on the device. The advantage is not that overwhelming.
The second point to bear in mind is familiarity with the keyboard layout. If you have been trained into touch-typing (can type with all 10 fingers without looking at the keyboard) then there is nothing faster than a good PC keyboard, for typing. But if you have not been trained to use the keyboard, and are an occasional PC user only, and are forced to do some typing, then it can be really a struggle to find all the alphabet characters, and really a hassle to disover all the punctuation. For an occasional users, the QWERTY layout is mysteriusly confusing. Why this utterly random order of the keys? Why are the keys not in alphabetic order (like the number keys at least thankfully are on the top of the keyboard, just beneath those useless Function keys).
Now, consider the 12 key basic alphanumeric keypad of the standard mobile phone. It takes SIGNIFICANTLY less time to learn the alphabet layout on a phone, than on a PC, because there are less keys to remember, and the keys are in logical sequence.
And then consider most buttons on a phone. Most buttons on the phone are multi-purpose buttons. THis is nothing new to PC user or indeed typewriter users. Our number keys have punctuation and special characters that we access using the SHIFT key, so yes, there are multi-use keys also on the PC keyboard. But typically PC keys have one or two uses, the phone keys have easily four, five, even ten different uses. And there are application-specific "soft keys" ie they shift use many within one application even; and even better, there are user-definable keys.
Then consider familiarity of the phone keypad layout. The global average mobile phone subscriber sent 3 SMS text messages per day last year. Most who own a PC do not have a need to WRITE on it every day. And the number of PCs is only 1 billion compared to 4 billion mobile phone subscribers. What I mean is that yes, a professional write or typist can far outperform the text entry of the fastest mobile phone heavy SMS texting user, using a full QWERTY keyboard. But if we take the occasional PC user entering text, and a familiar user of mobile text entry, the perfrmance will probably be equivalent in speed. Not inherently better on the PC. And a heavy texting user will outperform text entry on his or her own phone, than using a full PC keyboard (and obviously I'm talking of mass market common users, who would enter text on a PC using the two-finger text entry method).
But lets be generous. The PC has more keys, more specific use keys and in most cases of punctuation etc, the use of the key is printed on the key. On the phone you have to learn to find which punctuation is hidden under the 1 key, etc.
So advantage PC.
MOUSE SHOULD SEAL THE DEAL
And the PC has the mouse. Have you ever tried to do modern PC work without a mouse (recently I was at an internet cafe where the mouse was broken, OUCH.. what a hassle!). We don't have a mouse on the standard phone. Some premium phones do have a navigation button or touch screen, but most do not. And even a navigation button or a touch screen is nowhere near as powerful as a navigation, pointing and yes, drawing tool, as is our mouse. This should seal the deal for the PC. We ahve the mouse, the mobile doesn't. Entry is easier and better.
Ok, I'll give you the mouse. It does help, and in particular with internet surfing, the mouse is supremely userful on the PC. Almost something we can't live without. But is it the ultimate navigation tool?
NOW PHONE STARTS ITS COME-BACK
First lets think of communication and our inputs. Sound input. The laptop tends to have a built-in microphone, but there are not very many who are comfotable using the laptop built-in microphone for example in phone calls (Skype etc). Yes, it can be done, and yes, millions do use it that way. But far MORE of the Skype users have a separate handset phone unit, to use to speak into (and to listen to). It is a better way to speak sounds into the system. It can be done on the laptop, but is cumbersome. But every mobile phone is far better for voice calls than speaking to your laptop.
Lets put these into scale. How often does the average person who owns a PC, actually write text into the PC? But how many times per day - per day - does that same person speak on the phone? The mobile phone has better input if the data source is our voice calls.
What about recording random other sounds? The "dictaphone" to record a memo or speech or the sound of your child playing the piano or the lecture by the professor at the university? The phone can record using that same microphone and because the phone is pocketable and can be operated by one hand and is instantly usable (on the laptop if we suddenly want to record sound, it takes us the Microsoft Minute to just get the laptop up and running). So anything including podcasts and yes, professional journalists, the phone sound input can be used, and is often used. And is far better than the built-in microphone on the laptop.
PICTURE WORTH THOUSAND WORDS
But most of our lives is not text. It is picture and images. We absorb much more from the visual than the textual. Its no accident that we have the phrase that a picture is worth 1,000 words. And which of the 92 buttons on your laptop will capture that beautiful sunset for you to show your child? None. There is no camera on the laptop. You have to capture the image with an external device, a digital camera or scanner or webcam, and only then can yu save that image to your laptop.
But the majority of all mobile phones in use, and more than three quarters of new phones sold last year - were cameraphones. They can natively capture images. I don't have to spend hundreds of words attempting to describe a beautiful flower when I can capture its picture and show it to you. Now the phone starts to trump the PC.
And what of moving pictures? they say that a video clip tells the story of 1,000 pictures. I dont' think that is really true, but probably a videoclip will often tell a story better than 10 pictures at least. And your average laptop can't natively capture videos without an external camera attachment. But almsot all cameraphones can capture video.
WHAT OF WEB LINKS AND THE MOUSE
So the mouse you say? What of clicking on web links? the microphone doesn't help me navigate the web. I'll see your mouse, and raise you my camera! Camera for web surfing? Yes, we are now facing a shift in how we navigate the web. Think back to the early internet. The navigation by mouse-click is not how the internet first was navigated. Long before Mosaic and Netscape, which were the first browser that used Hypertext links (HTML, HyperText markup Language is the computer language we use to design web pages) there was the internet and before that, its military-oriented predecessor, the ARPAnet. That was "surfed" by using text-entry in such uses as FTP and IRQ and information pages (web pages) were organized into something called Gopher.
So while we today think of the mouse as a natural element of the intrnet, it was not there at the start of the internet and the internet had passed a million users before any mouse-clicking web surfing had become possible when the first browser was launched (Mosaic) in 1993. I do not mean in any way to dismiss the mouse, but I want to show that the mouse itself was an improvement to the internet. There is nothing to stop us from inventing better ways to surf the web than the mouse..
And we are there now. The mouse may be the easiest way to get to a page for which we have found a link, but if the website address is given to us for example in a printed form (our brochure, business card, or say an advertisement in a magazine) then our mouse is useless and we are stuck typing long URL's such as this blog site: www.communities-dominate.blogs.com that is 33 keystrokes even on a laptop of desktop PC.
The phone can trump that. Type all 33 characters with one keystroke! The 2D Barcode reader. If I post this image where you found the URL
And you have a modern cameraphone, then you don't need to type anything. You just point your cameraphone at that 2D barcode (also known as QR Code) and a moment later your phone will display the 33 character URL that you can click on, and arrive at this blog.
But this "magical" internet web address data entry method is not available on your laptop. But it exists on many new phones and soon on all cameraphones. And this will change the way we surf. In Japan 82% of all Japanese mobile phone users already click on 2D Barcodes. It is far more convenient than typingweb addresses, no matter whether on a phone keypad or PC keyboard. The phone is already better and increasing its lead.
And this ability will evolve rapdily more, as we get something called "Near Field" communications to add to the versatility of data input and web surfing. But that is a couple of years from now. But 2D barcodes are that relevant technology that mainstream brands can use them in mainstream markets and noto only in places like Japan and South Korea. Last year Pepsi had a big campaign with 2D barcodes in Britain.
PHONE AUTOMATED DATA ENTRY
The phone can do far more in automated data entry. Think of your incoming phone call. Your phonebook will let you save the incoming phone number automatically into the phonebook. Or take the phone number from an SMS text message, and save it for you. Meanwhile, the SMS feature allows sending or receiving complete phonebook entries, names, addressess, employers, phone and fax numbers etc, via a function we call "business card" We can also transmit those vith bluetooth. So you have already witnessed soem of the early examples of automated data entry. No typing required.
But now consider the power of the phone and its network. Let start with the camera. We save the time of when the picture was taken. The cameraphone (like any modern digital camera and most film based cameras also) saves the date and time of the image. But we are now starting to add GPS positioning ability to our phones. Dozens of millions of GPS equipped phones were sold last year. Within a few years the majoirty of cameraphones will have GPS. Not only will the cameraphone automatically record when the picture was taken, but also where it was taken. Our services will evolve to take advantage of the knowledge of where we are in terms of our location, just like today our GPS based mapping services know to show us a map of a different city based on where we landed on our flight.
We now have phones that use motion sensors, like on the Wii gaming console and introduced to phones on the iPhone. We can't practically do that on a laptop. Its too heavy to "wave around" and would be very prone to accidents and damage. But a phone is very easily able to incorporate motion sensors and allow new types of input. Again, my N82 is not a mainstream phone, it is a premium smartphone, but it was one of the first of Nokia's phones to include a motion sensor. We are adopting more input options to the phone that are not even viable on the PC or laptop.
PHONE WINS, SINGLE HANDED
I will end this essay with my fave benefit. The phone is designed for single-handed operation. This is a powerful element. While we can use a stationary PC and its keyboard with one hand (there are some who do it with the one-handed single-finger point methdod of typing) but most PC users do use both hands on the input devices (keyboard and mouse).
The phone is designed to be totally operable using one hand (well, most phones are, there are some exceptions that seem to require 2-handed use or use by one hand with the device securely sitting on a flat surface, such as the iPhone). That means that we can multitask. We can talk on one phone while we send a text message on the other. It means that we can type text while we walk, or stand while we carry something in our other hand - like our briefcase. We can't operate the laptop single-handed while we walk (unless we have someone else to carry our laptop for us..)
Two phones can be operated independently, with one phone in one hand and the other in the other hand. Young employed people with two phones do this quite instinctively and all the time. Like I say in a joke, that they carry on two SMS text message discussions using their two phones with two different people simultaneously.
The laptop input methods reflect its heritage. It is optimized for heavy text entry opportunities. Many early desktop PCs were bought to typing pools where they replaced the electric typewriters. The standard PC keyboard took all the keys of the IBM selectric typewriter and added many more (including the function keys) to allow more uses with computers.
Today with the in-built mouse, the laptop input methods for text entry and for many web surfing needs are better than the more limited uses on a phone. But text entry and web surfing are not the only inputs we use or can use. When we add sound inputs, the laptop built-in microphone on the heavy large device falls behind the utility of the built-in micrphone on our pocketable phone. For voice calls and note-taking and podcast recording, the mobile is better in inputs.
For pictures and video clips, the phone totally trumps the laptop. Built-in camera makes it inhently better at this. And the emerging opportunities from automated data entry and capturing data from the networks, to 2D barcodes and near-field, to motion sensor, the phone has a far superior range of input options than the laptop.
Now, this blog story is nothing new. The mobile phone keypad size is not an absolute obstacle for service, application and media success on obile. Keypad size is a red herring. I've been telling this same story for all of this decade, it has only refined itself. Similarly the mobile phone display size is not an obstacle, its another red herring. I discuss these so-called limitations in a whole chapter entilted "Creating Magic" in my newest hardcover book, Mobile as 7th of the Mass Media. In the book I also go meticulously through the 7 unique benefits of mobile, that cannot be replicated on any of the 6 earlier mass media, not even on the internet. This book is the handbook of how to create successful services on mobile and has a very powerful set of endorsements from all around the world. With 5 star reviews on Amazon its also rapidly climbing the charts. If you want to really understand how to capitalize on the power of mobile, pick up a copy of Mobile as 7th of the Mass Media today.