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Alternative keyboards for the iPhone and iPod Touch

If you search the internet for “iPhone keyboard” you will find an awful lot of people complaining. Many people find the touch screen keyboard of the iPhone and iPod Touch rather difficult to use and would rather have something more tactile and suitable for the larger thumb.

Whilst I can appreciate the difficulties that some people have I don’t really fall into this camp of thinking. Partly because I’m not the worlds fastest typer but also because I simply don’t have a problem using the touch keyboard. Occasionally I hit the wrong key but its not a big enough problem for me to want to sacrifice the benefits of the touch keyboard for a physical one.

Rather than concentrate on the apparent shortcomings of a feature such as the touch keyboard I prefer to look at the design of the iPhone and Touch in a more holistic way. The software keyboard, like the multi-touch technology itself allows for a great deal of versatility. It’s immediately there when its needed and disappears when its not, returning the full display back to you. It also adapts to the context in which it is being used, giving you a .com key for example when needed and a selection of alternatives when a key is held down. You also have the option of flipping your device on its side to access a larger, more spaced out keyboard.

That said, I haven’t really, yet felt comfortable writing lengthy articles or blog posts on the iPhone keyboard. I can see that in some situations an alternative keyboard may be useful but they are few and far between.

iType $100

Later this year, ION Audio will be bringing out iType; an almost full size QWERTY keyboard that cradles your iPhone in the upper portion of a keyboard that looks a lot like a ZX81 I still own. The iType has its own battery so it won’t drain your device and it is rumored that it may even be able to charge it. I don’t really know what I think about this. I can imagine it could be great if you want to do a lot of typing on your iPhone but I cant help thinking that if you are going to carry this keyboard around, you may as well carry a laptop around and be done with it. Having said that I can imagine myself using this and a laptop of course, costs a lot more than the expected price of $100 for the iType.

ION Audio website here
More images here

iTwinge $30

Perhaps size doesn’t matter. In which case the iTwinge may be the keyboard alternative for you. iTwinge is sleeve that plugs into your device and covers the lower half of your screen with a tactile keyboard making your iPhone look like a BlackBerry. If you really need a tactile keyboard when writing larger quantities of text this could be a good solution. I struggle however to see this as being a good replacement for the standard keyboard in general use. The fact that it permanently covers the lower half of the screen will present obvious problems. You also lose the ability to hold a key down for additional options and of course it wont work when the iphone is on its side.

Mobile Mechanics site here

4iThumbs $15 – $20

The lowest cost item is the 4iThumbs. This is a simple clear plastic overlay/screen protector with raised pips that provide a tactile separation to the touch keys which can be through it. It appears to be very easy to apply and adds hardly any bulk to your device. Unlike the iTwinge it does not obscure the screen and is available in landscape and portrait versions. When you are not using it slips out of its retaining flaps and attaches to the reverse of your device. I like the simplicity of this approach and prefer it to the iTwinge, but I still think my device is a better product without it. Perhaps if I really had a problem with the touch keyboard I may feel different.

4iThumbs site here

That’s it for now. Please let me know if you have tried any of these, or any other keyboards I haven’t mentioned.

Link to the Proporta website

A beautiful selection of quality iPhone and iPod Touch accessories

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