With so many future UI designs focusing on 3-dimensional, hands-on interfaces, it appears clear that the physical keyboard is going to soon be obsolete.

(i.e., John Underkoffler's presentation)

However, since the physical keyboard is such an integral part of our current desktop experience, is the removal of the physical keyboard from the User Experience of desktop software going to be a painful transition, since desktop computers rely so much on the physical input of keyboards?


7 Answers 7


Turn it on it's head: how else will you enter data?

I can see non-keyboard interaction becoming the dominant paradigm for browsing in quite short timescales, but for data entry/capture some form of keyboard (virtual or real) will most likely be around for a long long time, even with voice recognition systems becoming more and more sophisticated.

Why? Even with intelligent contextual understanding for grammar (e.g. 'weight' versus 'wait' etc) there will most likely be circumstances where talking aloud into a device isn't practical, for example in a noisy environment where ambient noise is a problem, or in a meeting where it isn't appropriate (imagine everyone talking into their notebooks!).

Ironically I'm guessing that many non-English languages with extended character sets that aren't naturally conducive to keyboard input (e.g. Japanese) would be faster to transition to keyboard-less interaction. I believe that many of the asian/pacific rim languages drove heavy adoption of the fax over e-mail because of this (anecdotal evidence) and this same phenomenon would be responsible for the keyboard-less interaction.

  • While discussing this same question with some friends this past weekend, the "voice activated" concept was tossed around. The same concerns were raised...and in the end, my argument was for more of a "swype"-like input, perhaps especially in favor of foreign language input...
    – jffgrdnr
    Jul 13, 2010 at 12:59
  • plus, I can type all day without getting bloody fingers - but how many people can talk all day without getting a sore throat?
    – peterchen
    Apr 3, 2013 at 11:07

I imagine we're at least a couple decades away from the keyboard going away, if not three or four or even more. . When it does go away, the effect will be the opposite of what you imagine. It won't be the keyboard going away that creates new ways to interact with desktop apps. Rather, it will be new ways of interacting with desktop apps that may, some day, cause the keyboard to go away.

The removal won't be a painful transition because it will only go away when there is already a superior interface in place.


Horsefeathers. As someone who writes, both English and code, I don't see the keyboard disappearing in my lifetime. I think it was Joel on Software who once described how voice recognition software got up to X% about ten (or more?) years ago, then stalled and has gotten no better since. And is not expected to. For an interface that does not require input beyond selecting pre-determined choices, sure, a mouse is all you need. For anything resembling creativity that includes text you will need more, and it's not going to be a virtual keyboard on an iPad, either.


The physical keyboard may disappear when we would be able to make touch screens with tactile feedback. Or when the computer would be able to read our mind.

The keyboard is still the main input device for many tasks and for many reasons. It couldn't be replaced by on-screen keyboards (since the typing speed is dramatically lower). It couldn't be replaced by voice recognition (imagine the office where everybody is talking constantly).

And don't forget many innovative interfaces which are based on text input (like Ubiquity).

So I think the keyboard will be here because we need to input the information to the machine and there are no serious alternatives yet.

  • It's the Tactile Feedback that is the main issue. I can close my eyes and touch the keyboard and know which key my fingers are about to press. Feedback having not even pressed a key is the issue I have with touch-screen keyboards. More than just the whole screen vibrating you need much more specific tactile responses to replace a physic keyboard with a touch screen one.
    – JonW
    Jul 13, 2010 at 11:41

Most touch devices still use a keyboard.


Not hurt, but change. It used to be easy for me to talk to someone for hours on the phone with crystal clear sound. Now, its easy for me talk while driving to work, but the quality sucks. I traded quality for portability. It hurt my UX in one way and made it better in another.

There will be a keyboard for a long, long time, but there won't be a BIG keyboard on many devices. Blackberry and iPhones still have keyboards, but I wouldn't call them "comfortable".


Maybe it will be like the pen an paper. Narrowing its uses but still used.

For most casual internet users writing is in short bursts, such as facebook updates, tweets, and emails. A large physical keyboard could be replaced by a screen keyboard, or small keyboard such as those on a mobile phone.

Laptops are increasingly popular with home users changing the desktop experience for a wide audience. Perhaps the transition from traditional desktops is starting.

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