It’s been suggested before, but RIM has officially confirmed today that the first BlackBerry 10 device released to market will not feature RIM’s customary hardware keyboard. Instead, RIM’s first BlackBerry 10 devices will focus on the impressive software keyboard RIM has developed for their upcoming platform. RIM is not abandoning hardware keyboards altogether, but company spokesperson Rebecca Freiburger declined to say when the first such device would make an appearance.
While the smartphone industry is largely moving away from physical keyboards–all iPhones and most Android and Windows Phone devices are touch-only–some analysts are baffled that RIM would move away from what is widely viewed as its primary strength. Colin Gillis, an analyst with BGC financial, provided the following statement to The Associated Press.
“The physical keyboard is the most dominant item that separates out Research In Motion from its competitors. If you are not playing to your historical strengths you may find it more difficult to get traction.” – Colin Gillis, BGC Financial
Others suggest that RIM offering a touch-only device as the flagship BlackBerry 10 phone makes a lot of sense, as the BlackBerry 10 operating system is geared toward touch screen devices, and aims squarely at Android and iOS as RIM attempts to pull market share away from these two companies. Jeffries analyst Peter Misek had the following statement.
“[It’s all about touch and closing the gap with Apple, so people should not be surprised that the initial model will have only a touch screen. They are going to build a BlackBerry device with a keyboard, but it’s just going to take longer. Maybe it will come a month or two after, but frankly it might be already too late.” – Peter Misek, Jeffries
Misek brings up an interesting point; it may be too late for BlackBerry to innovate with the physical keyboard. As the bring-your-own-device trend has grown, keyboard-less devices are becoming the norm, and perhaps people simply don’t want keyboards. Maybe then the physical keyboard is no longer a competitive advantage for RIM, and they will need to find a way to thrive in the touch-based smartphone world if they’re going to stay alive.
Time will tell.