An iPhone with a keyboard?

Never say never

It's also worth remembering that operators aren't Apple. They don't have the Apple design flair, the creative vision, or the urge to rock the boat. And they are looking at a surge in sales of HTC phones, all based on Windows Mobile, and many with really cute slide-out keyboards. "If that is where the mobile buyers are going," they think, "we should go there too."

If Jobs actually launches one to capture this market, will it succeed?

That's another question entirely! Contrary to the protestations of the zealots, this would not be the death-knell of the iPhone.

After all, the no-keyboard iPhone does not depend for its credibility on the absence of an alternative keyboard version. It either works or it doesn't. Anybody who has learned to use it will know that it works adequately, but you will find people who say that they'd prefer a real keyboard.

My own experience is that it works for iPhone standard things. That is to say it's great at web browsing and all the functions that iPod music playing requires, and wonderful for scanning photographs. It is, in short, a genuine innovation in user interfaces, and a successful innovation.

But innovation isn't what users all want. Many of us are conservative. Long memories are needed to go back to the days of WordStar text editing, and the resistance that people trained on WordStar put up when asked to use WordPerfect. And in their turn, WordPerfect users absolutely refused to adapt to Microsoft Word, however innovative the GUI might have been; Microsoft had to produce a version of Word which obeyed WP keystrokes.

In the phone business, users are notoriously conservative. Users of Sony Ericsson devices denounce Nokia as "plain wrong!" and vice versa; and yet really, the differences are trivial.

When it comes to keyboard skills, texting speedsters regard predictive T9 typing as wimpish. Both T9 and triple-type texters regard QWERTY phones like the Nokia E61 or the Blackberry or the HTC devices as perverse.

So it really isn't much use going to the dyed-in-the-wool qwerty button-pusher and saying: "But this is inherently better!" in evangelising tones. Like a small child who won't try porridge because they don't like it, they know they don't like it... so they won't try. And many people who hate Guinness have, similarly, never tasted a drop. That's human nature!

In the long run, it really doesn't matter to Apple whether people who get a keyboard on their office iPhone end up never using it. As long as they get an office iPhone, they have the chance of trying it, and maybe falling in love. As long as their company phone is a Blackberry or an HTC Touch or a Sony Ericsson X1 or a Nokia E61, they'll use it and regard the iPhone with suspicion.

Steve Jobs switched from Motorola to PowerPC to Intel chips. He does what he needs to do to sell stuff. If he has to put a keyboard on the back of some iPhones to sell more of them, my bet is he'll do it.

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