Touchscreens: A silver bullet in the wireless phone market?

On Saturday, Palm released the Pre, the latest in a long line of potential iPhone killers. While the iPhone was not the first device to offer a touchscreen, its popularity has made the technology more common on major release Smartphones.

Many factors have an impact on consumer choice, particularly when buying something as complex as a mobile phone; price, network coverage, carrier, applications, and many others. But what about touchscreens? How interested are consumers in touchscreens versus a more traditional QWERTY keyboard? Touchscreens create a lot of interest, but are they top of mind for the average mobile phone shopper when they’re ready to buy?

This chart covers share of online interest in phones with a physical QWERTY keyboard or touchscreen on the "Big 4" carriers’ sites during the first quarter. Each bar represents one week.

Our data show that in the first quarter of 2009, touchscreens and QWERTY keyboards weighed in almost equally when it came to online interest. We’re also seeing that:

  • Share of interest is trending upward for both features overall this quarter, although touchscreens have experienced a more consistent upward trend
  • Share of interest in QWERTY phones averaged 37% and touchscreen phones 35% this quarter

But, according to our Q1 survey data, when it comes down to the purchase decision, touchscreens are not as important — at least not yet.

QWERTY keys were "important" or "very important" to 44% of those surveyed, while 37% said the same about touchscreens. We can see in the chart above, however, that 23% of respondents said that QWERTY keys were "very important", compared to just 15% for touchscreens.

It’s not that touchscreens aren’t desirable for consumers — wireless shoppers on the web are clearly looking at phones with this feature, as we saw above. Still, they aren’t quite as influential as QWERTY keys when it comes to picking a specific phone to buy. Interest in these features and in Smartphones generally has been increasing.

It’s also important to note that while the data in the second chart shows us that QWERTY keys and touchscreens were important for 44% and 37% of shoppers, the corollary is that they weren’t important to 56% and 63%, respectively, when it came to their purchase decision.

So, even though a lot of the hype on advanced Smartphones is about touchscreens, QWERTY keyboards are actually a more important factor for most people when it comes to the purchase decision. Still, the majority of consumers don’t think either feature is important to their purchase decision.

In this tough economy where people are looking for value, the challenge for device manufacturers and carriers remains convincing consumers why these features are must haves for every wireless shopper, not just the early adopters.