On new cellphones, numerical buttons passe QWERTY, touch screens reign
Published: Sunday | April 12, 2009
Touch screens and QWERTY keyboards will take over from here.
At North America's largest cellphone trade show in Las Vegas a week ago, there were few new phones for the United States market that had a numerical keypad instead of an alphabetic keyboard.
Touch screens also were out in force.
These changes are a recog-nition of the popularity of text messaging and wireless Internet use.
Industry organisation CTIA Wireless, which hosts the show, said US subscribers sent one trillion text messages last year, three times the 2007 volume.
Voice calls increase
Meanwhile, the same people used 2.2 trillion minutes of voice calls, an increase of less than five per cent.
This shift in how people use their mobile devices has overturned cellphone design.
AT&T Inc, the second-largest wireless carrier after Verizon Wireless, introduced six phones, all of which had either a touch screen, a typewriter-style keyboard, or both.
At the booth of Samsung Electronics Co., the largest seller of phones in the US, there were no new keypad phones.
Motorola Inc, the largest domestic maker of phones, was showing off one low-end handset with a keypad. It went on sale through AT&T two weeks ago. But Motorola's big news was a model called the Evoke, which has a touch screen.
It's designed for the US market, though it doesn't have a carrier distribution agreement yet.
LG Electronics Inc displayed a new handset, the GD900, that seemed to both emphasise a numeric keypad and make it vanish.
A pad slides out from the GD900's body, but it's made of transparent plastic, so you can see right through it.
You don't need to use keypad at all, since the screen is touch-sensitive. Other new LG phones were also dominated by touch screens.
Even at the low end of the market, keyboards for text messaging are becoming common and affordable. AT&T expects to sell two of the keyboard-equipped phones it introduced, the Samsung Magnet and LG Neon, for about US$20 to US$30.
Old-fashioned numeric keypads still will have a prominent place - but largely overseas.
In a twist of market dynamics, the demand for QWERTY phones is mainly a North American phenomenon, said Ross Rubin, an analyst at NPD.
Although touch screens are gaining in popularity all over the world, people in other countries got into text messaging much earlier and "became acclimated to texting with a keypad," Rubin said.