BlackBerry Returns to Its Qwerty Roots

The Qwerty Keyboard Still Has a Lot to Offer Mid- to High-End Smartphones

qwertyThe release of the BlackBerry Q10 marks an important return for company. In contrast to the Z10, which features a full-touch screen, the Q10 includes BlackBerry’s well-known qwerty keypad. The company’s last high-end device to feature this design was the BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900, almost two years ago.

Today, qwerty products have been almost completely abandoned at the mid- to high end of the market. The products that remain are usually targeted at prepaid customers, particularly younger users looking for a budget smartphone. Some examples include the Samsung Ch@t 335, Nokia Asha 201 and BlackBerry’s own Curve 9320.

I still think there’s a great opportunity for qwerty to re-emerge at the higher end of the market. If that happens, we may have to reconsider our prediction that premium qwerty phones have little future beyond 2014.

The overall design of full touch-screen smartphones is becoming increasingly homogeneous, and the qwerty keyboard offers a great way for manufacturers to produce a phone that stands out from the crowd. Apple, for example, may not be best-placed in this regard, but Microsoft’s (and Nokia’s) historical focus on business users means Windows Phone might have something interesting to contribute to the qwerty debate.

In BlackBerry’s case, the qwerty keyboard is a signature piece of hardware that I think is still highly regarded among its past and present users. BlackBerry could tap into a rich vein if full keypads catch the imagination again; rumours of mid-tier BlackBerry 10 devices will fuel this expectation.

I’d really like to see BlackBerry produce some innovations in the size of the keyboard and the touch-screen interface. The touch screen on the BlackBerry Q10 is 3.1 inches, which is larger than the BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900. But I wonder if the screen could be made event bigger — 3.5 or even four inches, perhaps.

I know this might sound large, particularly on BlackBerry devices that are generally compact and small. However if you consider the growing size of today’s flagship smartphones and the rise of “phablets” (most notably from Samsung), I don’t think it’s impossible. If anything, larger smartphones are proving to be surprisingly popular.

So far the BlackBerry Q10 has been very well received, with initial stock rapidly selling out, which doesn’t surprise me. Depending on how sales go, I’d suggest competing manufacturers keep an eye on the “qwerty factor”. It shouldn’t be ignored.