The arrival in Australia of the Key Tronic brand via distributor ERA, combined with the release of new keyboard models by its embattled former OEM customer Honeywell, has set the scene for a keyboard war.
And according to Key Tronic marketing communications manager John Barnes, the fight will be for a major slice of the more than one million keyboards sold by assemblers and retailers in a year. He said that there was an opportunity to capture a significant portion of "price-sensitive customers" by supplying quality keyboards at a more affordable price.
Through its new distribution arrangement, Key Tronic claims it will supply the same keyboard models, formerly badged as Honeywell, to the Australian market for approximately 40 per cent less. Honeywell itself is responding to the challenge with the release of two new models - the Euroboard Multimedia and the Spacemate II - in partnership with two Japanese manufacturers, NMB Minebea and Alps Electric.
Responding to the suggestion that it had been dumped by Key Tronic, John Lloyd, manager of Honeywell's data products business, claimed that Honeywell had decided 12 months ago to find an alternative partner for the supply of its Euroboard and Spacemate keyboards. This was after finding out Key Tronic was planning to increase its prices by 10 per cent.
"The Key Tronic keyboard products were nearly four years old, and Honeywell was keen to upgrade to the latest available products at the best price possible," he said.
And reacting to Key Tronic's claim that the previously Spacemate-badged keyboard will now be sold for around $25 retail, Lloyd said that it just didn't add up. While not wanting to disclose the price Honeywell had been paying under the previous arrangement with Key Tronic, Lloyd said that, given the product is going through a distributor and then to resellers, "it sounds awfully cheap".
It was, too. Danny Kwoh, product manager of ERA, said that the retail price of the Phoenix model will actually be around $35, which he claimed is still substantially cheaper than its Honeywell alternative.
As well as the two keyboards, Key Tronic is releasing: a biometric fingerprint scanner, as both a separate unit and combined with the keyboard; a combination smart card reader and keyboard; and a new range of mice with motion detector feet instead of a tracking ball.
Logitech's Australian GM Marco Manera welcomed the new player, although he claimed Key Tronic had nothing to compete with its Internet Navigation Keys and Cordless RF Technology.