Adriana earlier today posed the question of whether or not there are keyboard fans still left on the market. There are, and I’m sure plenty will scoop up BlackBerry’s new Q10 when it hits months from now. When it comes down to it, many still prefer the physical pressing of buttons, that miniature typing nirvana, over touch. That’s understandable, especially for people who send out lengthy emails on the go.
But is a device like the Q10 enough of a draw to steal away users from Android or iOS, or even Windows Phone? No, not going to happen.
There will be some—people who have always wanted to take the QWERTY plunge, or those who ditched BlackBerry and want to go back. But physical keyboards are an endangered species, and that’s hugely evident by the fact that you just don’t see many around today. There are no flagship QWERTY devices being produced by any of today’s biggest manufacturers, at least not with the latest mobile OSes: Samsung, Nokia, HTC, Apple. And you won’t see that change anytime soon. The market is much different than what it was four years ago.
Sony won’t make a QWERTY handset. LG, Motorola, ASUS, ZTE, Lenovo, Huawei. None will hold a press conference this year championing a QWERTY handset as their flagship. I’d be surprised if we see very many (if any) at this year’s Mobile World Congress.
Think of it this way: Galaxy Note II owners aren’t going to suddenly decide they want to ditch a 5.5-inch display for a 3.1-inch square. Smartphones today are multifunctional tools people use to primarily watch movies, take pictures and play games. That experience will be hugely degraded by a device dominated by a physical keyboard. The cost of screen real estate is too great, particularly at a time when most companies are navigating toward 5-inches and above.
“The device can’t subsist on this demographic alone, however,” Adriana says in her post, talking about what the Q10 needs to do in order to be a success. “It needs to appeal to a broader audience.”
Today, that “broader audience” is too infatuated with going bigger. We’re further away from the old physical keyboard niche than we’ve ever been. At this point, there’s no going back for the millions and millions and millions of iOS and Android users. Because really, the touchscreen keyboard really isn’t all that bad—BlackBerry basically admitted this by spending so much time perfecting the Z10’s keyboard (which is fantastic).
The fact that there’s an enormous QWERTY void in the market doesn’t mean it needs to be filled. But BlackBerry doesn’t really know anything else except physical keyboards. The company wouldn’t be who it is today without them. Sure, the Q10 will likely offer a near flawless typing experience, but that’s nowhere near enough to pry users away from their all-touch pocket computers. It’s just not going to happen.
Worse, the Q10 isn’t even expected to hit until this summer, long after we’ve heard announcements from HTC about the M7, from Samsung about the Galaxy Note III and Galaxy S IV. And there might even be an X Phone announcement set for May at Google I/O. That’s a lineup way too seductive to even consider hopping over to physical keyboards, especially when the Q10 doesn’t offer any noticeable advantage other than QWERTY.
But at least you can type fast. There’s that.