Former Exec Rubenstein Wanted a Physical Keyboard on the iPhone


Sramana Mitra has an interesting post up comparing Apple to Palm. Actually, she's been on a tear lately when it comes to Palm and how they've dropped the corporate management ball. She scored a comprehensive interview with former Palm Executive Eric Benhamou, which reads very nicely but is also a clear example of how the problems Palm has now are the direct result of their earlier problems. Basically they followed the exact opposite trajectory that Apple did in nearly the same time period (basically).

Anyway, back to the intersection of the two companies. Mitra writes:

Rubinstein and Jobs could not agree on the iPhone’s strategy wrt the Keyboard. This tells me that Rubinstein has a separate but perhaps also compelling vision on how the keyboard needs to be incorporated into smartphones. I can’t wait to see what that vision entails!

John Rubinstein (Palm) vs. Steve Jobs (iPhone) - Sramana Mitra on Strategy

It's surely not the case (one assumes) that Rubenstein left Apple over the keyboard issue (though that would be hilarious); but it is interesting that the guy who ran the iPod division, the podfather himself, was pro-physical-keyboard for the iPhone. Now, of course, he's hard at work over at Palm, they who basically specialize in keyboard + touchscreen smartphones.

One wonders what other ideas Rubenstein had that didn't make the cut on the iPhone. If "Podfather" Rubenstein's input was 86'd on the iPhone, then one assumes that it was all Ive and Jobs, just like everybody's always said.

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Dieter Bohn

Dieter Bohn is former editor-in-chief of Smartphone Experts, writing across iMore, Windows Phone Central, Android Central, and more. You can find him on Twitter (and everywhere else) @backlon.

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Reader comments

Former Exec Rubenstein Wanted a Physical Keyboard on the iPhone


Figures. He is intelligent but he just isn't practical or pragmatic. No vision.
I told you Palm was in even more trouble with him now on board.

I think that he's more pragmatic than vision. Saying that he wants a kb and that makes him "not pragmatic" is a little weird?
Don't knock Rubenstein too quickly - he really was instrumental in the iPod getting off the ground and played a big part in Apple's turnaround.

I mostly said pragmatic because it sounded cool next to practical but when considering the compromises of having gone that way and in looking at the end result, I would say that he didn't have the vision and to choose the physical keyboard would not have been pragmatic.
If you were to put a keyboard on the iPhone it would be just like every other phone. Where would Apple be then?
Many of the things that people love about it would not be there.
Anyway, I do wish Palm the best of luck but things haven't changed in the last 3.5 - 4 years; every since I predicted they would be exactly as they are today. Check it out. If I wasn't so full of myself and yelling about how I was right 2 years before anyone else could see it coming :) I would be sick and disgusted in how they have faltered.

Rubentstein leaving over the keyboard would be hilarious, but I kind of agree with Archie in that it shows a lack of vision and, well, guts, and reminds me of the famous line about "Xerox will never sell anything called a 'mouse'!"
Succeed or fail, good or bad, Jobs has consistently shown vision and guts with Lisa/Mac (abandoning the CLI for the GUI), iMac (abandoning the floppy and intro'ing USB), and abandoning the tiny keyboard for the iPhone interface.
Rubenstein may have just highlighted the difference between someone who can competently run a division, and someone who can excite an industry, and that worries me for Palm. They may have need Ive much more (or Apple was much smarter to hold onto him).
(Not even to get into, again, how amazing Palm was 5 years ago, how trend-setting, and how they just fubar'ed it all since then -- the opposite to Apple's decision-making indeed).

Actually, IMO, Palm only got two things right: the original pilot and the Palm V. Literally everything else they've done has ended up being monumentally screwed up.
The innovation and excitement was Handspring.