Why isn't the keyboard-rocking BlackBerry Q10 out sooner?

commentary The core BlackBerry experience has largely been defined by the keyboard. Don't abandon it -- put it front and center, too.

Where is the BlackBerry Q10? Sarah Tew/CNET

commentary With BlackBerry 10 and the all-touchscreen BlackBerry Z10, Research in Motion is looking to the future.

But BlackBerry shouldn't forget its heritage and position its QWERTY keyboard-rocking BlackBerry Q10 play as the second-string product.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what BlackBerry is doing by launching the Z10 first. CEO Thorsten Heins said the Z10 will launch in mid-March in the U.S., while the Q10 will likely launch in April.

BlackBerry wants to create the impression that its all-touchscreen BlackBerry can compete against the iPhone and elite Android smartphones such as the Galaxy S3. Heins wants to barrel into the fray headfirst and go after the largest possible market of consumers, most of whom have grown more comfortable with touchscreens.

But if you look at the interest level around BlackBerry, it's the hardcore fans, and not the casual consumers, who are likely to be snapping up a BlackBerry 10 device when they first hit the stores. And to those users, the physical keyboard is a large part of the core experience of a BlackBerry. BlackBerry risks alienating some of its more loyal users by introducing only the touchscreen device first.

"What BlackBerry is missing is the opportunity to grab the keyboard users that desperately want an alternative to touchscreens," said Maribel Lopez, an analyst for Lopez Research. "Many users are dying for the keyboard version and it would've differentiated."

I've seen BlackBerry 10's fancy new virtual keyboard, and while it's impressive and got fellow CNET editor Brian Bennett excited , it doesn't truly replicate the physical keys.

I used to consider myself a hardcore BlackBerry user, typing away lengthy e-mails and even full stories on my smartphone. I've since switched to Android, and now iPhone, and I love my phone. But I do miss the physical keyboard, and feel a bit hamstrung when I tap on the screen at the virtual keys.

As a result, I'd at least consider switching -- but only for the Q10 and its keyboard.

I imagine the decision is even clearer for longtime BlackBerry customers also reliant on a physical keyboard. Heins often talks about the loyal base of 80 million (now more like 79 million) users. Well, it's time he thinks about them first. I'd be willing to bet a vast majority of those users have a keyboard. Even in the last round of BlackBerry 7 products, the keyboard-sporting Bold performed okay, while the other full touchscreen devices were largely ignored.

If they haven't given up the keyboard yet, why would the new BlackBerry 10 platform convince them to switch now?

So it stands to reason that BlackBerry might want to get the keyboard version of its BlackBerry 10 smartphone out sooner rather than later. That's especially if BlackBerry wants a big pop -- it's not an unlikely scenario that consumers hold off on buying the phone as they wait for the Q10.

The solution is simple: they should have both BlackBerrys launch at the same time. Market the two devices to two different segments -- the X10 to the remainder of the BlackBerry faithful, and the Z10 to potential new smartphone users or those looking to switch.

Unfortunately, Heins said today that the company was focused on getting the Z10 through carrier-testing first before clearing the Q10. That's a shame.

It's going to be tremendously tough to attract new users to the BlackBerry 10 platform. BlackBerry's reputation and the BlackBerry brand have taken a significant hit, and the company needs to go the above and beyond to get people's attention.

A good start would be have been to go after the loyal users and expanding from there. But with BlackBerry's early focus centered on the Z10, the company may be missing out on a big opportunity.

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About the author

Roger Cheng is the executive editor in charge of breaking news for CNET News. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade. He's a devoted Trojan alum and Los Angeles Lakers fan.

 

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