Last week BlackBerry announced the Z10 and the Q10, their two debut smartphone models running their new BB10 operating system.
The one that looks like an iPhone, the Z10, was available in stores immediately, and feedback one week on suggesting it is enjoying good sales
They one that looks like a traditional BlackBerry with a physical keyboard, the Q10, is available at a later date - suggested as May or June.
At first glance, making a new BlackBerry model with a physical keyboard is a no-brainer. If you ask faithful BlackBerry users what they love best about their phone, it’s the keyboard and how it allows them to process their email quickly on the move.
BlackBerry knows their customers have been passionate about the keyboard, and BlackBerry is also at a stage where they need all the friends they can get. Hence they may have decided they can’t afford to alienate their core user base by dropping the keyboard.
A decision to produce a new BlackBerry range without a keyboard would have also been controversial, and the media hype around a “BlackBerry kills the keyboard” story may have detracted from BlackBerry’s ability to communicate the key features of their new BB10 operating system at launch.
So the keyboard stays, and BlackBerry will let customers vote with their wallets about whether they a want a phone with or without a keyboard.
My guess is that people won’t buy the Q10. People might say they want a phone with a keyboard, but when push comes to shove they won’t buy a phone with a keyboard. There are other jobs people want their phone to perform that are prioratised over keyboards and email management.
Let’s take another look at our friend Google Trends to get a feel for what jobs UK consumers task their phones to perform.
It’s pretty clear that the highest priority requirements people have for their phone is the ability to run apps and take good photos and videos.
Physical keyboards and email prowess are niche requirements compared to the quality of the app catalogue and the ability of the camera.
Further, BlackBerry will be dependent on app developers to modify their apps to fit the smaller screen of the Q10. If developing for the BB10 platform is already an unattractive proposition for developers due to the small customer base compared to Android or iOS, how will they respond to a need to develop two versions of their apps?
I expect most developers won’t bother making a Q10 size version of the app, so Q10 customers will be stuck with choosing from an app catalogue that is a subset of an already small BB10 catalogue.
BlackBerry’s decision to launch the Q10 keyboard model appears to be an example of a company trying to look forwards and backwards at the same time.
I expect that once customers are given the choice to buy a new BlackBerry with a keyboard they will decline and instead choose a tablet style smartphone.
This will give BlackBerry the excuse it needs to finally turn a page and close the chapter on keyboard phones.