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Two years ago, touchscreens on cell phones were largely restricted to the enterprise phone segment. Today, every cell phone manufacturer is trying to get at least one mainstream touchscreen device into its portfolio. So are keypads on their way out?
Nokia and the 5800, BlackBerry and the Storm, Google and the G1, Sony Ericsson and the Xperia - touchscreens are certainly the rage among cell phone manufacturers these days. It is not as if the physical keypad has gone out of vogue entirely. In fact, there are still many more phones with physical keypads than with touchscreens, some of the new touchscreen devices come with physical keypads too (the Xperia, for instance). However, there can be no doubting the fact that in terms of sheer interest generated, the touchscreen has suddenly overshadowed the physical keypad.
Some observers feel that the recent "touchscreen mania" is just a passing craze that has been mainly triggered by the iPhone, and that people will soon tire of the touch factor in their devices. After all, touchscreens are nothing new; Nokia, Palm, Sony Ericsson and Motorola, all had touchscreen phones in their portfolio much before Apple did, although none of them achieved the kind of success that the iPhone did. They point to the rather limited success enjoyed by other iPhone wannabes, and say that Apple's device is a one-off rather than the reflection of a worldwide shift towards touchscreens.
However, the kind of attention that manufacturers are paying to their devices seems to contradict this view. Nokia is believed to be hard at work on at least three touchscreen phones; BlackBerry's Storm is already making waves; Sony Ericsson is working away at other phones in the Xperia series; Asus is trying hard to move into the mainstream segment with its touchscreen handsets (such as the P320), and the rumour is that Motorola is considering making the third edition of its legendary RAZR phone a total touchscreen affair. Looming in the background of all this is Google, whose Android platform for cell phones is very touchscreen-friendly. No, this time the touchscreen frenzy does seem to have an air of permanence about it.
Roots of the touch frenzy
The rush for touchscreens is not just because of the success of the iPhone, although that has played a major role. The fact is that a number of observers have always believed that touchscreens, if well executed, are easier to use than physical, button-oriented interfaces, as they would allow users to navigate more quickly than by pushing buttons. As any person who has used a tablet PC will tell you, it is a whole lot quicker to just reach out and touch an icon than to navigate to it using a mouse, a keypad or a trackpad. That's one of the reasons why those who use touchscreen computers tend to keep a lot of shortcuts on their desktops!