Tech Transformers

Keyboards on mobiles are making a comeback


We've spent the last few years typing on touch screens on mobile devices, but it seems keyboards are making a comeback, with electronics giants from Samsung to LG releasing keyboard accessories for smartphones.

The mobile keyboard was popularized by BlackBerry, whose devices were praised for their ease of use, especially when typing emails. But BlackBerry phones have seen a meteoric decline in market share and sales over the past few years, leaving a space for device makers to jump in with their own keyboard products.

"I think there is a bit of a renaissance on keyboards, as the last die hard BlackBerry users look for an alternative," Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, told CNBC at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin last week.

Roll up, detachable keyboards

Instead of mimicking the built-in keyboards seen on BlackBerry devices, a number of electronics makers are releasing detachable and wireless keyboards for smartphones and tablets, as users conduct increasing numbers of tasks on mobiles rather than the PCs.

At IFA last week, South Korea's LG showed off the Rolly keyboard, which is full-sized but can be rolled up into a stick that fits in a pocket or bag. It connects to devices via Bluetooth.

And earlier this year, Samsung unveiled a detachable QWERTY keyboard for its .


BlackBerry is the only company sticking to built-in keyboards. It is expected to unveil more details soon about its upcoming slider phone, which it teased earlier this year and which will feature a physical keyboard.

Analysts said built-in keyboards were likely to remain niche, with detachable ones gaining in popularity.

"There is a market for physical keyboards on touch screen devices, but the mainstream will continue to be touch screen optimized devices without a physical keyboard," Ian Fogg, head of mobile at IHS, told CNBC by phone.

2-in-1 tablets on the rise

It's not just smartphones that are seeing keyboard accessories gain in popularity. Tablets are too, with one particular category– the 2-in-1—growing fast. This comes as electronics companies try to take a slice of the mobile phone accessory market, which is set to grow 6.9 percent per year globally over the next decade and be worth nearly $122 billion by 2025, according to Future Market Insights.

Hybrid, or 2-in-1 tablets, come with a detachable keyboard. Shipments are set to grow 86.5 percent year-over-year in 2015, despite an overall decline in the tablet market, according to IDC.

China's Lenovo is one company looking to take advantage of this and last week at IFA unveiled the Yoga 3 Pro, the latest in its Yoga line of 2-in-1 tablets. Microsoft is another big player in the market, with its Surface series.

With the PC market set for a decline in shipments this year, hybrid devices are becoming more popular.

"The combination of portability, productivity and flexibility of touch and a keyboard in one device is attracting some notebook and tablet users to replace their devices with hybrid-form factors," Tracy Tsai, research director at Gartner, wrote in a note in June.