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Why Physical Keyboards Haven’t Gone Out of Style on Rugged Handhelds

Throughout most of the tech scene, we’ve generally been seeing a phase-out of physical keyboards on handheld devices, with electronics manufacturers opting instead for purely touch interfaces.

You have to admit that that pristine, uninterrupted expanse of glass looks pretty sexy on a handheld device. However, in the rugged handheld world, “sexy” doesn’t always equate to “functional,” and functionality is key when designing a device for data collection professionals.

That’s why, even while consumer devices are moving away from physical keyboards, many rugged handhelds retain the “old-school” buttons, especially those handhelds—such as our BH83 and BH84—intended for data-intensive applications that require high levels of data entry.

Rugged Handheld with barcode scanner

So here’s why physical keyboards haven’t gone out of style in the rugged handheld computer’s world:

  • Faster data entry

You must be very careful on touching the part of the screen if there is no physical keyboard, physical buttons allow for fast data entry than with virtual keyboard.

  • Higher accuracy

Physical keyboard provides a more accurate target than virtual keyboard, reducing the number of incorrect key strokes, and leading to more accurate date.

  • Rapid, non-visual data entry

For some applications, such as log scaling, for example, workers read off—and simultaneously enter in—their data, without even looking at the keyboards. This allows for very rapid data entry, and would be impossible with a virtual keyboard.

  • Safety

Going along with the above, when workers can collect data non-visually, it allows them to spend more time looking up, increasing awareness of their surroundings. Many applications require constant vigilance, as workers are operating around dangerous equipment and other hazards, so being able to direct a portion of their focus to their surroundings is very important.

  • Reliability

Physical keyboards can be used in different conditions of the outdoor environment, as virtual keyboard cannot. Rain, snow, and dirt can affect a touch screen’s responsiveness, and bright sunlight can affect view-ability. Because of these factors, a physical keyboard provides the most reliable method for data entry in tough outdoor conditions.

  • Productivity

Physical keyboards can be programmed to do complex background tasks at the touch of a button. For comparison, the modern smartphone “app” architecture is based on carrying out one task at one time. For example, say you are writing an email and need to look up a date or time for a meeting. You need to leave the active “app” for another, only to have to switch back again. This is not a big deal for a single event, but for some highly repetitive data collection tasks, this can be a total productivity killer.

With a physical keyboard, individual keys or buttons can be custom configured to carry out commands such as activating sensors, initiating barcode scans, or capturing GPS data, without having to leave the “active screen” of an application, thereby increasing productivity.

At Bright Alliance, we strive the design our rugged handhelds in a way that maximizes accuracy, productivity, and safety for users. And for some of our handhelds, that means including physical buttons – which are not going out of style any time soon.

Click here to see our rugged handheld products, or contact us to learn more.

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