updated 09:40 pm EDT, Fri April 27, 2012
Tony Fadell says three iPhone ideas tested
Apple had considered one of three core ideas for the iPhone, one of which included a hardware keyboard, former Apple executive and now Nest founder Tony Fadell revealed Friday. Speaking in an evening session with The Verge, he mentioned that the all-touch design that eventually shipped first had come after he wanted to try a virtual keyboard before resorting to the hardware option. The key iPod architect had understood the potential of an on-screen keyboard, which has infinite customization and can disappear when not needed, but didn't rule out physical keys at first.
During development, there had been three versions, Fadell added. The all-touch design that ultimately shipped was accompanied by another model of an unknown layout as well as a third "iPod + Phone," implying a design that more closely followed the iPod concept was once on the table. Steve Jobs would later go on to mock the idea of a literal iPod and phone combination at the iPhone's introduction, when he showed a mockup of a classic iPod with a rotary dial on top.
When Apple introduced the iPhone, many at the time thought the virtual keyboard was a mistake, most of all hardware keyboard advocate RIM. At the time, the only experience with on-screen input had been with PalmOS and Windows Mobile devices using imprecise resistive touchscreens and interfaces that neither autocorrected text nor were optimized for anything but a pen. RIM was convinced the BlackBerry would thrive by catering to a large number of people it presumed would need hardware keyboards.
Apple's use of a capacitive screen and a truly finger-ready interface has not only come to dictate how most smartphones work but has led to HTC dropping hardware keyboards almost entirely as obstacles to its design, an about-face from the original T-Mobile G1 Android phone in 2008. At present, only a handful of companies like Motorola and RIM continue to make a significant effort in supporting QWERTY keys on smartphones.