In 2005 Palm release its last handheld computer: the T|X. It was, in short, one of the nicest devices Palm ever made (the Palm V was the nicest) and finally had the features everyone wanted: built-in wifi, full screen mode (you could hide the keyboard), a nicely designed product, good battery life, at least for the time. But that was it. From that point on out it was smartphones and every one of those smartphones had a physical keyboard.
Between 2003 and 2007 every smartphone shipped had a physical keyboard. No one at these companies thought that the future was a soft keyboard. Microsoft, Palm, RIM, Nokia all had physical keyboards. Even Android was originally written for a physical keyboard.
As we all know in 2007 Apple announced the iPhone and the iPod touch and the whole world remembered that physical keyboards, to many, was a pain in the rear end, that it would get in your way. RIM came out with touch screen devices, some with and without physical keyboards. Palm did the same, all with slide out physical keyboards. Android was quickly re-written for devices with soft keyboards. The world, short of a few BlackBerry models, dropped them all together.
As always Horace Dediu wrote an excellent post taking RIM to task on dropping consumers to focus on enterprise sales:
The idea of focus has huge benefits. Focus and the art of saying no are keys to greatness. However, you only succeed if you focus on the right thing. “Enterprise” is not the right thing. It’s not a valid target. Enterprise support is a feature, not a product. I don’t mean that as opinion, but as a point of fact. Focus on a set of customers whose only characteristic is a job description is missing the whole point of focus.
I am in complete agreement with Horace. There is no enterprise market. To lend credence, I started a conversation with a guy on the street last week, a guy carrying a BlackBerry. His comments went something like this:
I can’t carry an iPhone. I need to type for a living. I can’t answer emails fast enough and text messages fast enough by typing on glass. And my wife! She has long fingernails and couldn’t use an iPhone or Android if she wanted. The screens won’t pick up her finger presses correctly.
RIM: this guy is your customer. He is an info worker who needs access to stuff quickly. He’s not going to carry around a junk device that looks like crap. He still wants the web and music on the go. But he needs email, messaging, phone calls, security and everything else your standard issue info worker needs. He needs all that stuff syncing seamlessly across his systems. And guess what? He needs a physical keyboard, which you excel at. The beauty of the cell phone world is one size doesn’t need to fit all. There is room for a physical keyboard and you are in luck since everyone else abandoned them.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a variant of this post before. The odds of Thorsten Heins pulling it off, in my mind, are slim to none. Not because RIM isn’t capable with excellent engineers. But because the company’s management seems to have its collective heads stuck up their asses.