Is this the End of the Blackberry Physical Keyboard?

by Matt Klassen on May 3, 2012

Blackberry 10 Prototype

Along with the once vaunted security and functionality of the Blackberry device, if there was one feature that set Research in Motion’s smartphones apart from the rest of the pack it was the physical keyboard. In fact, clearly geared towards those who rely heavily on being constantly connected to operate their businesses, Blackberry’s physical keyboard has long been a company marketing staple, with one of RIM’s newest batch of Blackberry commercials challenging viewers, “Try writing 1000 emails [a day] on a touchscreen.” [view commerical here]

But things seemed to change on Tuesday when RIM unveiled its Blackberry 10 prototype, a tool designed to allow developers to start programming and creating apps for the company’s upcoming Blackberry 10 OS. The thing about the prototype, though, is that it’s a radical departure from almost anything we’ve seen from Blackberry before, it has a touchscreen.

As expected, the appearance of a Blackberry flagship device without a physical keyboard sparked a torrent of speculation, with many wondering if this could be a the first of the new era of Blackberrys and whether or not RIM would end its long standing relationship with the physical keyboard. Yesterday RIM CEO Thorsten Heins set the record straight…

Addressing the speculation surrounding the physical keyboard, Heins stated that Blackberry’s physical keyboard is certainly not dead and nowhere during the developer meeting did anyone say anything to that effect. So how did we all get that impression?

Looking back, on Tuesday, during the rollout of the Blackberry 10 developer prototype, the company explained that one of the key highlights of the yet to be released Blackberry 10 OS is the presence of an intelligent virtual keyboard, one that takes touchscreen technology to a whole new level, with intuitive user interface that learns frequently used words to the style of typing the user employs (do they often make mistakes, etc…). Simply put, in the collective mind of RIM, virtual keyboards will reach a whole new level of accuracy and functionality with Blackberry 10.

So couple that information regarding the next generation of virtual keyboards with the sight of a Blackberry prototype developer device that sports no physical keyboard and perhaps one could justifiably speculate that RIM is making a radical departure from its regular modus operandi. Sure the company didn’t come out and directly say that they’re moving away from physical keyboards, they simply implied, suggested, and inferred that such would be the case.

While Heins did stress that the Blackberry 10 prototype was simply one of many possible form factors for upcoming B10 devices, I would assume at least that one of the company’s next big flagship Blackberrys will sport a touchscreen, although how they’ll comport that with the fact that most of their current marketing platform emphasizes the benefits of a physical keyboard certainly remains to be seen.

In the end, it’s clear that Blackberry is trying to diversify its brand, moving itself away from traditional enterprise specific devices and more towards consumer oriented products that could still be used at the office. It’s clearly how Apple and Google are capturing the corporate sector, and it’s clear that RIM is hoping Blackberry 10 will once again put it front and centre in the mobile space.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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