Bluetooth Keyboards for iPhone 3.0 Still Speculation – Is there a market?

March 19, 2009

in iphone, Strategic Foresight

One of the iPhone 3.0 features I’m most interested in is where the Bluetooth functionality they are unlocking is going to go. (Some think not that important.) My iPhone 3.0 now plays music on my car stereo! That’s huge from my perspective. Yet I have some yearning for the capability to use it with other keyboards. 3.0 won’t currently pair with a keyboard and there appear to be many questions still out there. This video on a jailbroken iPhone doesn’t really provide proof but suggests one mode of operation.

It becomes really interesting when iPhone case makers can create keyboards to integrate with their cases. Eg 1/2 flip or slide, or a clamshell version. As well as the more traditional stowaway versions. The same potential exists for bluetooth game controllers. The challenges include bulk, batterylife, cost etc.

Who would be interested? What sort of keyboards?

  1. Someone that wants to text without looking or enable tactile single button speed dial options may want a standard digital keyboard to slide down.
  2. A blackberry user may want the tactile experience and similar spacing found on their old blackberry. Thus a full keyboard maybe in a clamshell.
  3. A travelling blogger may want to use a stoweaway type keyboard and leave the laptop behind.
  4. Gamers who want more traditional game interfaces as a controller.

It’s appears as a long term strategic decision with big design implications. Is Apple willing to give away / open up to keyboard design / relationships with anyone? Keyboards then become an accessory. I believe they should and do it now. It creates a great market for innovation around various input devices. This seems plausible given the direction 3.0 is going in.

It’s also a significant engineering benefit for Apple. They continue to focus on touch! They stick with the one screen format, or even two screen clamshell going forward. Although the emerging pairing options of screens / devices makes any clamshell questionable. Strategically the cost and engineering of keyboards is moved to an accessory manufacturer.

When there were only a few million iPhones there wasn’t any potential market for keyboards.  At least not enough to warrant development. Now with 10’s of millions it is starting to become more interesting.

If I was at one of the accessory manufacturers I’d be looking at keyboards. When the “case” market can create all sorts of versions from your mini computer why not let them have a go at it. Done right they have to be super thin. My hard encase proves to me its possible.  In the end Apple decides what’s stocked in the Apple store so “image” is managed. Touch remains cool and the differentiator. No need to explain phones with sliders, or clamshells etc. Those variations become obsolete. Fashion is more about how you dress it. The phone as the mini-computer / mobile computer transformation becomes complete. Users can customize and the strategy keeps production volumes up.

This strategy also makes a predicted large Touch all the more likely. BTW Asus has a touch solution already. We also get a new market for innovative wireless input devices. While keyboards are the first the opportunity, many other input devices becomes attractive / interesting. (Example… localized broadcast services. Apple’s open no pairing required architecture makes this really interesting.

Apple Bluetooth keyboard paired with iPhone

There’s a very cool video at Ralf Ackermann’s blog showing an iPhone receiving input from an Apple Bluetooth keyboard. Of course, it requires a jailbroken phone,

From Apple’s perspective doing phones with keyboards is totally the wrong direction. However, letting users use keyboards with their phones will enable many new stories and may create opportunities that further grow the accessories market. The technical challenges as an accessory manufacturer to make a bluetooth enabled keyboard for an iPhone that people actually want is tough at a price point people will pay. Still it could be interesting.

My general assessment of 3.0 is that developers have been given a lot more to build with. The socket examples also become really interesting. It’s also time to start thinking about the cost implications of reaching the home appliance repair guy with a computer / uplink and mobile phone. Add keyboards and other device support (eg the portable printer – no real problem already) and the iPhone appears to become a very cost effective integrated platform that can be customized around their work needs.

  • justin

    For the love of God, YES!!! I want/need an external keyboard!!! I am a graduate student who dreams of leaving his laptop at home because I might someday have the ability to actually take notes on my iPhone in class–a task that requires a close-to-regular-sized keyboard. MacAlly has already developed a bluetooth keyboard for the iPhone, from my understanding. See here http://www.avalive.com/MacAlly/BTKeyMini/43579/productDetail.php
    I MacAlly is just waiting for Apple to get off their a$$es and un-cripple the bluetooth capability.

    I have zero problems with the virtual keyboard regarding average cellphone input. I can actually blaze around the screen faster than I could with the physical qwerty keyboard on my old phone. BUT for Apple and manufactures to not recognize the need for a serious input method (ie, bloggers, traveling business folks, students, etc) is a horrendous mistake and oversight.

    Dreaming of legitimate bluetooth functionality,
    –JC

  • Andre

    One of the things stopping me from by an iPhone is that it doesn’t support an external keyboard. i want to be able to use it for work – not just as a phone, but also to SSH onto devices.
    i think it has great potential for system and network administrators who use CLI based platforms.

  • Tom

    For crying out loud, why are phone manufacturers so scared of letting people actually use a real keyboard?!? There are a million reasons to allow it, and I can’t think of a single reason not to. WTF? Come on Apple, pony up and enable the iPhone bluetooth keyboard pairing – and don’t wimp out on this Apple. Make ANY bluetooth keyboard work with the iPhone. That way people can buy what suits them. I had a Stowaway Shasta keyboard for my Blackberry and it was fantastic. I could write real emails (whole sentences and ideas and everything!) not just several word vagueries. Having an iPhone is about communication isn’t it? Then let people communicate! There are A LOT of professionals out there who love their iPhones, but still have to carry a laptop around with them. Some of them even buy tiny netbook computers because they’re tired of lugging all this junk around. But if I could have a full size keyboard (even one the same size and in a netbook) that would fold in half and fit in a coat pocket or my glove box, that would be fabulous! I could write real emails, I could do school work, I could SSH into servers and routers, I could be SOOOO much more efficient.

    What are they waiting for?

  • Hy

    Andre,

    Have you checked out TouchTerm Pro?

    An external keyboard will be a great addition, but the gesture engine
    in the ssh client TouchTerm Pro helps the iPod Touch become a real work tool.

  • chodemastur117

    For crying out loud, why are phone manufacturers so scared of letting people actually use a real keyboard?!? There are a million reasons to allow it, and I can’t think of a single reason not to. WTF? Come on Apple, pony up and enable the iPhone bluetooth keyboard pairing – and don’t wimp out on this Apple. Make ANY bluetooth keyboard work with the iPhone. That way people can buy what suits them. I had a Stowaway Shasta keyboard for my Blackberry and it was fantastic. I could write real emails (whole sentences and ideas and everything!) not just several word vagueries. Having an iPhone is about communication isn’t it? Then let people communicate! There are A LOT of professionals out there who love their iPhones, but still have to carry a laptop around with them. Some of them even buy tiny netbook computers because they’re tired of lugging all this junk around. But if I could have a full size keyboard (even one the same size and in a netbook) that would fold in half and fit in a coat pocket or my glove box, that would be fabulous! I could write real emails, I could do school work, I could SSH into servers and routers, I could be SOOOO much more efficient.

  • Darren

    I need a keyboard and a terminal window and 90% of my work can be done on the phone.

  • Justin C

    Also a lover of the keyboard idea, I will plainly tell you guys why there is no Bluetooth keyboard. The heart of the reason for our wanting a keyboard is also the heart of the reason for Apple not wanting a keyboard. Tom’s post highlights this fact, writing in effect:

    If only I had a keyboard I would have to (***ding ding ding!!! say it with me now) carry my laptop.

    BUT Apple wants you to carry your laptop!!! Why? Apple makes the vast majority of it’s money from, you guessed it, laptops (and desktops!) So millions of iPhone users not having to carry their laptops amounts to fewer laptops sold. Keyboards good for us; bad for Apple

    you’re saying, “but people will still need a REAL computer for normal computing etc,” an that’s true. Just because I have an iPhone keyboard wouldn’t necessarily mean that I won’t by next years MacBook model. However, that is threatening possibility than Apple faces. It would hurt sales at least some. Could they make it up with keyboard sales? Probably not. Why? Because if they were going to make more money by introducing a keyboard, then guess what? They would have already.

    Know what they’d much rather do and are going to do instead? Sell you one of the huge iPhone-like-netbook-ish thingy for $750 , I’m guessing. What does that equal? A lot more than a $50 Bluetooth keyboard. And now they have a whole new market, too.

    Bluetooth keybaords. I’d love one too. it’d be great for me. Bad for apple. That’s why we haven’t seen one yet.

    All about the benjamins, gentlemen. Goodnight

    (and I anguishingly typed this message on my on-screen keyboard!!! Haha. I meant for it to be short!)

  • Justin C

    Ha! My using Tom reasoning towards the beginning was supposed to say “wouldn’t have to carry a laptop”!!! That’s pretty important for my argument. WOULDN’T!

  • Jeff

    Other reasons that we won’t likely see bluetooth keyboards…

    The phone companies don’t want ’em. Right now, you pay extra fees to use smart phones with unlimited data and then charge extra fees for when they let you tether to your computer (with 5gb caps on data)… well, a keyboard could conceivably increase your data usage with a smart phone without generating more revenue for them.

    Also, cell companies want you to pay for a cellphone plan AND also want you to pay for a separate/additional plan for things like netbooks/laptops. If you use a bluetooth keyboard and existing cellphone, they lose a possible additional revenue stream.

    I was hoping that Android would help break open the restrictive policies of American cellphone companies, but apparently, it hasn’t helped much. I’m just hoping that Sprint (in third place and losing marketshare fast) decides to take a lead role and try more progressive actions.

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