At some point, it seems likely that Apple (AAPL) will broaden its iPhone lineup to more than one design. But will the company sell an iPhone with a physical keyboard? Are there enough people out there who insist on an iPhone with plastic keys for Steve Jobs to get over his reported hatred of buttons? Anything’s possible, but probably not.
In a research note today, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster suggested potential new members in the iPhone “family” he’s predicted for months. Example: “Specifically, we believe Apple could introduce a lower-end model that is slightly thicker due to the inclusion of a slider keyboard for students (texting) and business use (email) between $99 and $149,” he says.
Munster’s prediction that Apple will sell 45 million iPhones in 2009 — by far the biggest estimate we’ve seen — relies heavily on the thought that there will be more iPhone models to choose from. So it’s interesting to see what ideas he’s basing his projection on. But we’re not sold on the slide-out keyboard.
Why might Apple include a keyboard on a future iPhone?
- Because there are still some people who insist on a physical keyboard for typing on a smartphone. We expect they’ll show up in the comments section of this post.
- Some people, like women with long fingernails, can’t use an on-screen keyboard comfortably. (Thanks to reader Greg P. for the reminder.)
- While Apple’s on-screen keyboard gets easier to use over time, it’s still not as good as a good physical keyboard, especially for writing long messages.
- Even though Apple’s typing error correction tool is good, many people aren’t confident enough to trust it. Or not as much as they trust typing on a physical keyboard.
- Because Apple’s most important rivals — Google (GOOG), RIM (RIMM), Nokia (NOK), etc. — all offer smartphones with physical keyboards.
Why might Apple not include a keyboard on a future iPhone?
- Because it’s a waste of bulk and weight — you don’t use it enough to make the tradeoff worthwhile.
- Because Apple does what Apple thinks is best, not necessarily what survey respondents want.
- Because many iPhone buyers have never owned smartphones with plastic QWERTY keyboards and won’t miss them.
- Because Steve Jobs hates buttons, even on his clothes, according to a July 2007 Wall Street Journal story.
- Because Steve Jobs specifically made fun of smartphones’ QWERTY keyboards while unveiling the iPhone at Macworld 2007. See funny video below.
Anything is possible, so we won’t rule it out completely. (Apple’s designers would probably make a darn good plastic keyboard.) And we’d note that Steve’s Macworld speech doesn’t specifically reference slide-out keypads, which might be less offensive. (But still too bulky for what they’re worth.)
But we don’t see Apple selling an iPhone with keyboard buttons any time soon — we don’t think enough people are refusing to buy keyboard-less iPhones to make it worthwhile.
If anything, Apple might want to help accessory companies offer add-on keyboards, gaming pads, etc. But not build them into the phone.
We’d rather see Apple focus on making the on-screen virtual keyboard better — like fixing bugs that frequently make it slow to respond — and adding widescreen typing to apps like Mail and SMS.
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