How to fix the keyboard crisis

Mobile gadgets are supposed to get better and better. So why have their keyboards gotten worse?

Still, there's hope

Though most netbook keyboards are horrible, at least two companies are trying. The first netbook with a great keyboard was the Sony Vaio P. Like all newer Sony Vaio laptops, the P sports those flat, MacBook-style keys that people either love or hate. The Vaio achieves its magic by being much wider but much shallower than regular netbooks. The P is great.

But almost nobody has one because they cost a small fortune. The product is listed as starting at $849, but that price will buy you an inadequate experience. A more reasonably configured system runs closer to $2,000, which is a bit much for the netbook market, where prices are now one-tenth that price.

This week, Fujitsu announced a great-looking Windows 7 netbook called the LifeBook UH900. The form factor is very similar to the Vaio P's, with a wide keyboard and smallish screen. It weighs about a pound. The UH900 has unexpected features like multi-touch, and also all the things you've come to expect, such as a built-in camera.

The big question is, however: How much will it cost? If Fujitsu can get the price of this thing below $600, it might have a winner on its hands, although rumors suggest it will cost much more than that.

My view is that these companies have the right idea. If you have to sacrifice either screen height or keyboard width to miniaturize a clamshell PC, I say sacrifice the screen. Most of us use these device to take notes, catch up on e-mail, and do a little blogging or writing. We're not editing video or watching Blu-ray movies. What we need is fast and comfortable typing. When we want a dazzling screen, we can use our full-size laptops or desktops.

The gadget industry has somehow convinced us that typing doesn't matter. It's time to fight back with our wallets. It's time we stop buying mobile gadgets with junk keyboards. Don't be dazzled by shiny displays and forget how important a good keyboard is. The industry can do better. They've done it before. And if the money flows toward better keyboards, we'll start seeing innovation again.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. Contact Mike at, follow him on Twitter or his blog, The Raw Feed.

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Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

Computerworld (US)
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