In a recent interview with The Verge, the former Apple executive Tony Fadell has revealed that at one point, Apple narrowed down the original design of the iPhone to three prototypes before introducing the phone in January 2007.
Fadell said that the final designs were an iPod-phone hybrid, an undisclosed version which was also called the “iPhone” and the final model that reached customers’ hands. When asked about his personal opinion, Fadell said that he did recognize the potential of a virtual keyboard. He even went as far as waiting for the technology instead of going with a hardware option. Jobs sided with Fadell’s point of view and both ended up seeing the success their decision had created.
Before original iPhone hit the market, the general trend was heavily skewed towards QWERTY keyboards. This was a time when Research In Motion (RIM) dominated the market, implementing physical keyboards in all of its designs included the BlackBerry Pearl, which was popular.
One of the major drawbacks to early virtual keyboards was the ease of use as the overarching resisting touchscreen technology was far from being intuitive. Also, many applications often required the use of a stylus. The iPhone ended up introducing capacitive touchscreens to the consumer. These touchscreens allowed Apple to create a device that was not only sleek but also user friendly than other smartphones. After the debut of the iPhone, the overall market began to shift to multitouch screen technology and slowly move away from physical keyboards.
Although some users still prefer the tactile feedback that a hardware solution provides, now more people seem to prefer the ease of use and design of the virtual keyboard. The success of iPhone in market (for other reasons also) proves that.