The JioPhone 2 made its highly-anticipated debut at Reliance’s 41st Annual General Meeting earlier this week. One of JioPhone 2’s marquee features is its full QWERTY keyboard which brings back memories of the BlackBerry Curve, one of the coolest smartphones of its time. The phone was not only a massive hit, it also made people addicted to a physical QWERTY keyboard and established BlackBerry as a force to reckon with. Nowadays, it is rare to find a phone with a physical keyboard and it is only natural for people to ask why Jio is betting on a phone with a QWERTY keyboard? Here is an attempt to decode the logic.
The second-generation feature phone is a significant departure from the original JioPhone, which had a candybar design. The JioPhone 2 is now much wider and that’s because of a full QWERTY keyboard. The display is still a 2.4-inches but now in landscape mode. The rest of the specifications remain the same. But the move behind launching the JioPhone 2 makes sense for one simple reason: the convenience factor behind the physical keyboard form factor. That’s the question TCL Communication of China is also trying to answer with its new BlackBerry Key2. The two companies have completely different ideologies and target groups, though. While TCL Communication firmly believes a $650 Key2 will match up to other high-end smartphones in the market, Reliance wants to sell the JioPhone 2 at a dirt cheap price.
Here the emphasis is not on how to perfect the keyboard, or the design of the phone. The goal is to bring users’ attention back to the physical QWERTY keyboard, especially on a feature phone. It’s a practical approach to make typing faster on the JioPhone 2, which doesn’t come with a touchscreen display. The QWERTY keyboard will prove to be more convenient for users to launch apps or commands. I’m yet to use the JioPhone 2 myself, but imagine how easy it would be for WhatsApp users to input text with a physical keyboard.
With the JioPhone 2, Reliance Jio will able to target two types of users; one those who have never used a phone with a physical keyboard and the other who previously owned BlackBerry-style phones but have moved on to other platforms since then. I see a lot of demand for the JioPhone 2 among senior citizens.
We understand that the JioPhone 2’s customers would be first-time phone users, or those who will upgrade from the JioPhone. Maybe a physical keyboard makes sense for them. But if you have probably used a smartphone with a touchscreen display, we bet it would be really difficult to get back to the physical keyboard. In fact, many believe the virtual keyboard on a modern day smartphone is much more convenient to use than typing on the physical keyboard. Perhaps why you see why not many companies have launched smartphones with the physical QWERTY keyboard, barring TCL Communication which makes BlackBerry phones and even they have not been a success.
Even among users who have not used a smartphone every, the aspiration is to own a touchscreen smartphone, not a smart feature phone with a keyboard. So don’t expect all feature phone users also to be too excited about this. A lot of feature phone users might rather upgrade to a proper smartphone.
Reliance JioPhone 2 is a fresh attempt to make feature phones far more useful. Sure, JioPhone 2 doesn’t feel like a modern-day smartphone, and that’s not a criticism. At Rs 2,999, the JioPhone 2 gives those users the perfect excuse to use a phone with a physical keyboard which is not only pocket-friendly but also modern in its foundation. The JioPhone runs on KaiOS, the mobile operating system that allows the feature phone to support apps like WhatsApp, YouTube, Google Assistant, and Facebook.
Will physical keyboards become mainstream again? We do not have the answer, but the physical keyboard form factor will surely make a comeback on feature phones. As the JioPhone 2 launches on August 15, I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least a couple of manufacturers once again attempt to make phones with a physical keyboard