Brighthand Bytes

Jan 5 2012   7:10PM GMT

A BlackBerry Without a Keyboard Is Like a Fish Without Gills

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

A report surfaced today that BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion is only going to make one smartphone this year. While this should be taken with a grain of salt, like all unconfirmed reports, I find it plausible because of the limitations RIM has placed on itself.

After many years of using the same operating system, this company is moving to a whole new one. Dubbed BlackBerry 10, it is going to be used on both RIM’s smartphones and tablets. Apple and Google do something similar, but RIM is going a step further: it is only going to support one screen resolution.

The advantage of this for third-party app developers is they only have to make one version of their apps for tablets and smartphones. And that’s important. With the nearly epic growth of Android and iOS, RIM is having a hard time finding people to write the apps needed to make its smartphones useful and/or fun.  

There’s a significant downside, though: it really limits the range of practical designs for BlackBerrys.

BlackBerry London PrototypeIt’s unrealistic for a single app to look good on a 3-inch smartphone display and also on a 7-inch tablet. This means RIM has to give its handsets the largest screens realistically possible.  The result of this, for good or ill, is the end of the traditional BlackBerry form factor, with a small screen above a miniature keyboard.

That’s apparently why the information that has leaked out of RIM points to this company prepping a phone with a large display and no keyboard on its front. A leaked image of this smartphone, supposedly code-named the London, can be seen to the left.  

Another Alternative
There is a compromise, but it’s one that RIM seems to have eschewed. Most mobile devices with physical keyboards these days put it on a sliding plate, so it can be hidden behind the display. RIM itself makes a device or two like this, so the company seems to have deliberately passed his option over.

Why it chose to do so is a good question. One could argue that physical keyboards are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Looking over Brighthand‘s current list of the 10 most popular smartphones, you’ll find only one with an actual keyboard. On the other side of the coin, I have to point out that the one device on that list with a real keyboard is a BlackBerry.

Users of RIM’s smartphones are accustomed to typing on real keys. People I ask about it tell me that’s one of the main reasons they get a BlackBerry. For RIM to drop this feature from the one-and-only model it makes this year sounds to me like a horrible mistake.

Even if the report that RIM is prepping only the London is correct, it’s not too late for the company to change its mind. Because of various problems, the first smartphones running BlackBerry 10 are nearly a year away. That’s plenty of time to add another option — one with a physical keyboard — to the product lineup.

And if, in the midst of its current difficulties, RIM feels it can only produce one design, then the London needs to be dropped in favor of a smartphone that has the hallmark BlackBerry feature: a physical keyboard.

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