Apple iPad, Microsoft Courier and the death of the keyboard

Editor's Notebook: Time to wave goodbye to Qwerty?

...a regular user of a tablet PC, chances are you worked in a warehouse or maybe in a hospital. Although the form factor has been around for ages tablets were considered a technology in search of a use (here's one being used to embarrass me five years ago).

And the iPad and Courier are just the start: analyst Gartner expects to see as many as 10.5 million tablet devices sold this year, predicting that the iPad is just one of many new devices coming to market that will "change the entire PC ecosystem" and overlap it with the mobile phone industry.

You could argue today's tidal wave of tablets can be traced back to the success of the iPhone - which brought easy to use touchscreen technology to the masses - has created a market for hardware with touch interfaces.

It's not just an easy-to-dismiss consumer fad either: it's coming to your business and your office too. Some industry-watchers are predicting that iPads and iPad-alikes will be ubiquitous within five years, while a recent CIO Jury found IT chiefs expecting the iPad to find an enterprise niche.

So what of the good old keyboard which I am writing this article on?

It's never been the most user-friendly of interfaces - it might seem so, but that's because we've spent years training ourselves to use it. Even the layout of the keys has less to do with making it an effective typing tool and more to do with preventing early typewriters from jamming up.

The tablet devices debuting this year will inevitably give a boost to handwriting recognition (which seems like a more natural way of communicating), touch and maybe even speech recognition.

At first that's going to mean a lot of re-training of users, and pain for those supporting them but dumping the keyboard in the recycling bin of history could be liberating too. A new interface can create new ways of thinking and expressing ideas - or help bridge the digital divide by encouraging those who were terrified by the quirks of Qwerty.

The keyboard isn't going away any time soon but there have never been so many credible rivals to its supremacy.

Now if someone could just tell me why I've got two CTRL keys on here...