It appears there will be no new BlackBerry phones coming out of Research In Motion's annual smartphone shindig, BlackBerry World, this week, but Google could be looking to pick up some of that slack very soon if a new patent filing is any indication.
The patent application, published late last week, gives top billing to Android chief Andy Rubin and details a design for a smartphone with a slide-out keyboard. A hard keyboard would be a first for Google's trademark line of Nexus phones, if that is what this application actually portends.
Google's manager of global communications and public affairs, Jim Prosser, told CNET in an email that the company files "patent applications on a variety of ideas that our employees come up with. Some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don't. Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patent applications."
But there's a few hints that the filing is serious business, namely that Rubin's name is on it and that it went from submission in January to being published this month -- much faster than the typical 18-month turn-around time.
Much of the patent filing details the actual slide-out mechanism, including a few different options, but they'd all look more or less the same to the user. Google stresses the benefits of the mechanisms, noting that the configurations allow for a significant amount of keyboard space with room for larger keys or even the inclusion of a mouse or a trackpad on the hard keyboard itself.
Android has reportedly been struggling to keep up with iOS in penetrating offices and other workplaces, but a Nexus phone with a hard keyboard could be a strong lure for disillusioned BlackBerry users looking to hang on to a tactile QWERTY experience. We also learned recently that Apple toyed with the idea of a physical keyboard for the first iPhone, but the multitouch experience on iOS has since come to be a defining feature, so it's hard to imagine the notion popping up in many serious discussions in Cupertino these days.
The notion of a slider Google phone has me humming a bit of Elton John's "Circle of Life" -- after all, the first commercially available Android phone was the G1 on T-Mobile... with a slide-out keyboard.
Update, April 30 at 8:06 a.m. PT: to add response from Google.