I was eating dinner with my uncle last night and he told me he “loved his BlackBerry.” I think Android and iOS offer better solutions for mobile users these days, so I asked him why it was that he still preferred BlackBerry over more robust operating systems. “The keyboard, my thumbs just can’t type on those touchscreen displays,” he told me. The QWERTY keyboard has been a staple in RIM’s BlackBerry portfolio forever and, while it has offered devices without QWERTY keyboards in the past, the AP reported on Thursday that the firm’s first BlackBerry 10 smartphone will not offer a hardware keyboard.
“The physical keyboard is the most dominant item that separates out Research In Motion from its competitors,” Colin Gillis, an analyst with BGC Financial told the AP. “If you are not playing to your historical strengths you may find it more difficult to get traction.” Gillis is dead on with his comments. We already know that RIM is going to produce BlackBerry 10 phones with hardware keyboards and that it hasn’t ditched the idea terribly. But I can’t help but wonder how people like my uncle will react when RIM’s latest and greatest phone launches without a keyboard. Will it scare them off from RIM? Even though us tech heads know that RIM has plans for hardware keyboards, people like my uncle probably don’t. They might look at the new phone and think that touchscreens will be the future of RIM.
It just seems like a silly choice to me. I think RIM should release a pair of BlackBerry 10 devices at the same time: one with a keyboard and one without one. That way, consumers know right from the get-go that RIM’s not bailing on hardware keyboards.
That’s not RIM’s worst battle, though. Right now it just needs to focus on actually getting a BlackBerry 10 device to market.