BlackBerry 10 To Lose Keyboard
June 21, 2012

BlackBerry 10 To Lose Keyboard

Peter Suciu for

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion has lost much of its market share in recent years to the Android and iOS platforms. Along the way employees and executives alike have lost their jobs. But the biggest loss of all for BlackBerry users may be the physical keyboard.

At May´s BlackBerry World 2012 Conference in Orlando, Fl. RIM President and CEO Thorsten Heins took the stage to unveil new BlackBerry software. The BlackBerrry 10 hardware, which has reportedly been delayed for a year, wasn´t actually shown at the event, but Heins highlighted what users could hope to see.

“The whole company is laser focused on its development. We´re making incredible progress on BlackBerry 10,” Heins said in his keynote at the conference. “You can see the detail that we are putting into this platform.”

In addition to the detail put into the platform, on Thursday RIM announced that the new operating system will be made available with BlackBerry handsets with only a touch-screen keyboard — at least for now. RIM spokesperson Rebecca Freiburger said Thursday that the BlackBerry 10 software will eventually be made available to devices with physical keyboards, but did not say when this would occur.

This move is considered by some to be puzzling. Many users agree that there are aspects of the handset that have long needed upgrading, notably the web browser, but for the hardcore BlackBerry users, the physical keypad is still considered a selling point, and one of its strengths.

“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 Washington Post on Thursday. “If you are not playing to your historical strengths you may find it more difficult to get traction.”

However, the shift to a virtual keypad may be seen as a move to make the new handsets closer in design to the iPhone or Android devices. Some analysts have also noted that building a BlackBerry device with a physical QWERTY keypad could likely take longer.

So the move could be one to introduce the BlackBerry 10 sans keyboard to show that the company is moving forward, and then follow up with a keyboard version a few months later. While Apple may only update and refresh its iPhone on a yearly — or longer — basis, anyone who walks into a mobile phone store knows there is always something new. Thus multiple models of BlackBerry handsets could give consumers a choice.

RIM, which has lost its dominance in the smartphone market, is looking to avoid the mistakes made by rivals such as Nokia and more ominously Palm, which became essentially irrelevant in the market as its Pre handset release seemed to be an all-or-nothing move. Palm was eventually purchased by HP, which continued with the Pre line but killed off the Palm brand in 2011.

Beyond the move to virtual keypad RIM has also looked to do more than just a minor update with BlackBerry 10, and has created a new mobile OS that is meant to offer users a more robust multimedia experience, while still offering Internet and of course email access. But the Canadian company also knows that apps have been the make or break features on smartphones, and for this a touchscreen is a must.

Smart move or final play, only time will tell.