I don’t keep my personal preference for mobile devices with physical keyboards a secret; the sensation of hitting real keys is an indivisible part of the text entry experience for me, and it’s not likely to change any time soon.
But there is one area where physical keyboards are woefully inferior to virtual ones: adaptability. A virtual keyboard can represent any alphabet or be arranged in any configuration the user or software needs, and a physical keyboard simply can’t keep up with that.
There is no better example than Wolfram|Alpha’s iPhone/iPod Touch app, which now has four full-screen keyboards to accommodate all the various mathematical symbols that it includes in its searches and computations.
Today, Wolfram Research pushed out the 1.1 update to its .99 application in the iTunes App Store, which has been redesigned to provide a more useful interface with the “answer engine.”
“To determine the optimal keyboard layout, we scoured Wolfram|Alpha’s server logs for the most commonly entered phrases that have characters with meaning in Wolfram|Alpha,” the team’s blog says today. “Given that Wolfram|Alpha is built on Mathematica, one of its core strengths is advanced mathematics. True to form most of the commonly typed characters are related to math.”
In addition to the standard keyboard, Wolfram|Alpha includes specialized ones labeled “Math,” “Greek,” and “Symbol” to simplify the act of querying the app.
“Whether people are converting currency, locating positions of planets, or performing advanced mathematical computations far beyond the capabilities of
scientific and graphing calculators, this new functionality provides a natural mobile computation experience,” the team said this evening.