Tiny Keyboards Biggest Obstacle for Handheld Users

New research indicates that one of the most significant roadblocks to consumer use of wireless data services remains the diminutive size of most handhelds' keyboards.

SAN FRANCISCO—Even as device makers rush to introduce their latest handheld devices at the ongoing CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment 2005 conference here this week, new research indicates that a significant obstacle to the growth of mobile services may be sitting in the palm of their hands.

According to a study released Tuesday by the University of Connecticuts Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, most consumers would be willing to utilize more data-oriented mobile services if the keyboards on their handheld devices werent so impossibly cramped. The study found that adoption of wireless activities such as text messaging, picture messaging, Web surfing, phone personalization and gaming remain bogged down by frustration with digit-challenging handheld interfaces.

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Based on the researchers survey of an unspecified number of U.S. residents, 46 percent of its respondents dont use any of the data input features on their mobile phones, including address books, based on their distaste for inputting letters using a traditional 12-button numerical keypad. Roper said that only 31 percent of those interviewed currently use the SMS (short messaging service) text communications capabilities of their wireless devices as a result of that frustration.

The study found that over 43 percent of those surveyed said they would use text messaging more frequently if they had a direct-entry keypad, rather than the traditional multipurpose dial-pads offered on most mobile phones.

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Similarly, over 25 percent of those people responding to the survey said they would access wireless Internet services more frequently with a better keyboard, while 21 percent said they would engage more frequently in picture messaging and nearly 20 percent said they might play more games. According to the study, 53 percent of the people surveyed would utilize the calendar applications on their phones, and some 45 percent might use personalization tools on their devices, if their mobiles keyboards were larger.

Over the years, handheld manufacturers have made a number of attempts to offer expanded keyboard interfaces for their devices, from clamshell-like phones that open to reveal shrunken, but desktop-like QWERTY keyboards, such as Nokia Corp.s 6820 Messaging Device, to Palm Inc.s brand new Treo 650 smart phone, which offers a small but extensive keyboard on its exterior. However, those devices also remain pricey, retailing for $319 and $299, respectively.

Among the alternative keyboard technologies being highlighted at the CTIA conference will be devices such as LG Electronics Inc.s FasTap LG 6190 mobile phone, which offers a pad with alphabetical keys placed directly alongside the traditional 12 numerical keys on its face. However, if size is the issue, the FasTaps letter keys remain very small, and its not cheap either, starting at $249.

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