A good piece on iPhone vs Palm Pre, discussing, among other things, hardware and software keyboards, and what are the merits of one over the other.
There’s an important aspect of the iPhone keyboard that I don’t see mentioned very often, and the following photo shows it.
It is very easy to enter non-standard characters with iPhone, and I use this capability a lot to send messages in my native language. It is easy for Apple to deploy new characters or entirely new layouts to the keyboard.
I dare anyone to show me it is as easy with the hardware keyboard. Even if it is possible to enter nonstandard characters in a similar way of holding a key, they will pop up in a place that is disconnected from the button press, so they will feel like second-class citizens and I will feel like a substandard person because of that. On the iPhone, the extended characters pop up very close to the original keypress and the experience of entering, say, “ä”, is not that different from entring “a”.
For Apple, the software keyboard means that they can reuse the same SKU (physical unit) for any location, and deploy all the needed changes in software configuration. This must be much cheaper than Palm etc having to manufacture different units for different places and not being able to reuse them. So I expect the iPhone to sell much better globally (as it already is selling) than Pre (which is just US and one carrier for now).