While reading an article partly about the iPhone user experience, a thought dawned on me about the virtual keyboard. Like many other people, I was afraid that the lack of tactile feedback would be disorienting and difficult to get accustomed to. And, like most people who have moved to the iPhone, I’ve found that it really isn’t. That got me thinking about the whole nature of “touch typing”.
Think back to high school (those of you who actually took typing classes). What was the “sales pitch” the teacher gave you about “touch typing”? Well, it made you more efficient by stopping you from having to repeatedly move your eyes from the keyboard to the screen (or, er, paper – at least when I was in high school).
Now think about the iPhone. Where’s the keyboard? Where’s the screen? Your eyes never have to move more than 3 inches to jump between the two. AND, with the large visual pop-up key feedback (the real stroke of genius), you can rely on your peripheral vision to ensure correct keypresses, and still never take your eyes off of the entered text. Apple simply took a negative limitation of a mobile device (limited room for both display and input), and turned it into a positive – the ability to support a virtual keyboard by replacing tactile feedback with peripheral visual feedback.
Turning limitations into advantages is a hallmark of both great marketing and great user experience design. Whenever you’re in the process of designing a transformative product like the iPhone, always be sure to ask yourself “What old rules no long apply?”