Did you know that the first Android smartphone did not even support a virtual keyboard at first?


The fall of 2008 was an important time for Google. A year after Apple launched the original iPhone, the company was about to debut its own platform - Android. Acquired as a startup back in 2005, Android, a project of engineer Andy Rubin and a few others, is said to have undergone massive changes after the launch of the gamechanging iPhone. The end result finally arrived on T-Mobile with the G1 (aka HTC Dream), officially the first Android smartphone.

The T-Mobile G1 launched in October 2008 to the tune of the following highlights: 3.2” display, Android running at version 1.1 (no sweet names were publicly associated with those early versions), a signature chin-up design, and a physical, slide out QWERTY keyboard.

The reason for the latter, however, is not just convenience - Android at that version simply did not support a virtual, on-screen keyboard. The physical was thus the only way to type on the device.

This is an interesting little detail showing how little faith Android engineers had in the efficiency of a virtual keyboard.

Luckily, they quickly changed their position on the issue. Some six months after, Android 1.5 Cupcake was released, and the update brought one of the key features that we take for a given on all modern smartphones now - a virtual keyboard. It took quite a while until the Android world was ready to dump the physical keyboard completely. That happened with the launch of the HTC Nexus One in March 2010. Fast forward to today, and a device with a physical QWERTY keyboard would look strange at best. That’s progress for you.

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34 Comments

1. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

Yes cause the first Android phone ever had a physical Key Board.

12. engineer-1701d unregistered

this is not true but some what is if you are talking about the g1 yes because people wanted touch keyboard alot of people still do, but the android os could do virtual keyboards.

18. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013

Could but it wasnt standard...not yet at least.

22. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

Virtual Keyboards were STILL something the mainstream didn't like. Remember when Apple's iPhone & Android's G1 came out the mobile world was dominated by RIM/Black Berry. They were #1 & everyone owned and loved physical keyboards. So yes it took Android 6 months to add virtual keyboards which is GREAT, considering that at the time physical keyboards were all the rage.

29. dreamcore

Posts: 8; Member since: Nov 15, 2012

Haha, completely ignoring the disruptive intervening success of the iPhone in the analysis. It's okay, I can occasionally find amusement in platform chauvinism.

2. hemedans

Posts: 755; Member since: Jun 01, 2013

android was meant to compete with symbian, then things change and it end up competing with apple thats why many early features of android look like symbian

3. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

I think it was more RIM/Black Berry than Nokia/Symbian to be honest.

8. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

I think its because people forget just how hard it was to type on virtual keyboards on 3 inch screens... especially before finger detection, auto correction, and such were vastly improved like they are today. One of the original iphone's biggest complaints was trying to type on the dang thing.

19. engineer-1701d unregistered

less then 3 inch screen 2 normal

30. dreamcore

Posts: 8; Member since: Nov 15, 2012

I begrudgingly accepted the virtual keyboard but wasn't sold until gesture typing.

13. engineer-1701d unregistered

no it wasnt it was a overlay system it could run over any system and bring out full potential then after the demos google came is with the money

32. kristoferallen

Posts: 99; Member since: Jun 23, 2010

Android was never meant to be an OS for competition with anyone. They stated that a million times when they came out with Android.. Over and over they stated they weren't trying to compete with anyone. Where were you people? No one watches keynotes or interviews, just babble on with made up stuff about them?

4. jaytai0106

Posts: 1888; Member since: Mar 30, 2011

G1 is the OG of Android

5. Neo_Huang

Posts: 1067; Member since: Dec 06, 2013

Technically, it's not. The original was never released because it was too old in comparison with the iPhone.

7. MasterSyrron

Posts: 59; Member since: Dec 08, 2012

First COMMERCIALLY available Android, to be technical.

10. g2a5b0e unregistered

You're an idiot, dude. Do you think anyone cares about a prototype of a phone that was never available to consumers? The G1 is the OG of Android. It's a factual statement. Get over it.

14. engineer-1701d unregistered

your an idiot the g1 was the first google owned android os phone know your facts kid you where most likely in preschool when android was in development.

17. g2a5b0e unregistered

First off, I'm 31 & I have 2 kids, so no, I was not in preschool when Android was in development. Secondly, did you even understand what I wrote? OG = Original Gangsta. I know the G1 was the first Google device. That's exactly what I was saying. Learn a little grammar & sentence structure before you call someone an idiot so you don't sound ironic doing it.

20. engineer-1701d unregistered

typing using mouse on virtual keyboard in a bed to much effort for people that cant keep up with my brain. sorry but you will love this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKh1Rv0PlOQ virtual keyboard swipe being talked about and pinch to zoom used on a mutitouch device all a year and half before iphone this is where apple got the idea over the norm

31. dreamcore

Posts: 8; Member since: Nov 15, 2012

Thirty-one with two kids... you know they're to emulate you, you're not supposed to emulate them.

34. g2a5b0e unregistered

The funny thing is that you think I care about your opinion.

6. foreverjin08

Posts: 73; Member since: Sep 10, 2013

Then who came up with the stupid idea to make it support virtual keyboard?

11. Suo.Eno

Posts: 556; Member since: Feb 17, 2013

Maybe that was a /s missed so forgive me if I got it wrong but it's not a stupid idea at all. If we're to look at the going rate for phones these days across all categories, a physical keyboard would be just too insane of a thing to sustain. Imagine a 5.5" device still with a slide out keyboard's BoM? Plus less plastic = good for the environment.

25. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013

good for environment? meh bio plastics at that point, or recycled etc.

21. engineer-1701d unregistered

it was built into the operating system from the beginning just htc body had keyboard because thats what people wanted at the time. so they thought because thats what all phones sold with, the os was put on to the g1 and sold as the first production run android phone.

15. silverfang77

Posts: 11; Member since: Nov 21, 2010

While I'll admit that onscreen keyboards have improved greatly and are very usable, I still enjoy the feel of an actual keyboard under my thumbs.

28. Stuntman

Posts: 843; Member since: Aug 01, 2011

I would say that autocorrect has improved greatly. Due to the amount of keying errors you make when typing on a virtual keyboard, autocorrect is pretty much a requirement. When I first started using a Nokia N97 that had a physical keyboard, it only took me a few weeks before I could type well on it without needing auto-correct. I struggled for almost 6 months with an on screen keyboard before I gave up and turned autocorrect on.

16. engineer-1701d unregistered

back then no one wanted virtual keyboards they where all stuck in the bb world i hate keyboards, thats why i took an interest into the operating system during development stages then the guys where showing prototype of system running ontop of nokia phone phones mostly just did phone and text t9 text and web was real real slow, not as slow as 95 but slow still

24. Suo.Eno

Posts: 556; Member since: Feb 17, 2013

Interesting that you've mentioned BB though. I still think that they can easily pull off another full touch device (phone I mean) with their interpretation of a better virtual keyboard moving forward. **shrug** Not right now maybe with their cautious steps understandably.

23. gaara6775

Posts: 738; Member since: May 20, 2014

At least we could use full screen while typing.

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