Here at Clove we hear a variety of requests and provide advice daily to many people whether they are buying now or simply looking at the market to get an idea of what they might want to buy soon. One question we used to receive almost every day and still do, although admittedly not as often as we used to, is if we stock any Android devices with a physical keyboard. Once I could have pointed you towards the likes of the HTC Touch Pro 2 or Desire Z, now those Android sliders seem a distant memory
To some tech savvy consumers (who also happen to be a fair majority of the Clove team and our customers) the initial response might be along the lines of “A physical keyboard?? Why on earth would you want one of those on a new phone??” However when you stop and think for a minute the question really isn’t that strange. What does seem strange is why, when a year or two ago it was easy enough to pick at least one device from most major manufacturers to suit, there are suddenly no handsets, at least in the Android camp, that spring to mind.
Smartphones are the hottest toys in the technology world right now but they’re not the newest: the huge industry smartphone boom which arguably started with the original iPhone began a good few years ago now and the split between those with a smartphone and those using ‘dumb’ phones grows bigger every day. So surely this should mean manufacturers make devices which are accessible to all? Whilst “accessible to all” may sound like a sound bite from a company PR handbook, it is important and one factor that can actually hinder or stop a purchase for people.
Casting my own mind back to my first foray into a touch only environment I recall it being an alien and altogether unhelpful world. Of course I eventually “got to grips” with it and now wouldn’t be without a full touch device, however for many it is not so easy – recently trying to teach a family member how to use a new phone elicited many cries of “Oh I wish it just had some buttons!!”
It’s undeniable that physical keyboards add a level of tactile feedback to a handset that no amount of haptic feedback (vibrations) can rival. For those that are coming from many years of dumb phone use, probably with a standard numeric keypad layout, this can make the transition to new technology much smoother. For both text entry and device navigation the response provided from a ‘real’ button is an assurance that a) it was definitely pressed and b) something should have happened. They also massively improve the productivity of those that do a large amount of text input such as heavy SMS users or people that send a lot of emails and work well as work or business devices. So where did the keyboards go?
Putting a full keyboard on a device obviously adds a fair amount of weight and thickness. In a market where selling points tend to hinge on being sleek, slim, lightweight and all the rest, maybe a bulky phone just isn’t ‘sexy’ enough to compete. That may seem seem somewhat superficial but I would attribute it to being part of the reason for the decline.
After that also comes general popularity and a snowball effect. Keyboards were already a niche for Android devices and a risk. It can take many months and millions of dollars to design, develop, test, market and launch a new device across multiple territories. If a company is unsure it can break even then it is unlikely to be get past the initial stages and as less people bought keyboard laden devices the less incentive there was to make them. Eventually it is likely that the major manufacturers no longer saw them as financially viable projects and so they have almost dried up all together.
The Android keyboard isn’t completely dead, the Motorola Photon Q (left), based on the Droid 4 is a new dual core device currently available in the States, although it is part of a dying breed. There is a market for the Android experience combined with the productivity boost of a keyboard but very few manufacturers are willing to take the risk right now. It seems that for the time being at least, the sturdy old BlackBerry may still rule the roost here.
What about you? Do you own or used to own an Android device with a keyboard? Are you perhaps a BlackBerry that would maybe like to move to Android if they didn’t have to lose their beloved keyboard? Post your thoughts and comments below