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Q10 with qwerty keyboard seen as lure to majority of BlackBerry's 76M users

Matt Hamblen | April 26, 2013
BlackBerry needed to produce an updated qwerty device for its faithful base of 76 million subscribers, but it remains to be seen whether the Q10 will make serious inroads in reversing BlackBerry's decline.

"I really like the keyboard," she said.

Several analysts said they hear the woman's sentiment all the time, mainly from BlackBerry users, although there is also a core group of younger qwerty users on other platforms, such as the now-rare Sidekick, a horizontal slider with a physical keyboard that is especially useful for texting -- especially among young smartphone users.

BlackBerry originally made its reputation with various qwerty keyboard handhelds. It also largely failed with the BlackBerry Storm, a full touchscreen device introduced in late 2008, analysts said.

"The Z10 has only had moderate success so far, and there is still a large base of BlackBerry users who want to upgrade to BlackBerry 10 OS and have been waiting for a qwerty version in the Q10," said Kevin Burden, an analyst at Strategy Analytics.

Of the 76 million BlackBerry users worldwide, Burden said he'd be surprised if many are using the Storm. He said the vast majority of the BlackBerry users are indeed using older qwerty devices.

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group, said it was a "huge mistake" for BlackBerry to produce the touchscreen Storm device to imitate the iPhone "because BlackBerry's own unique design had been so successful and the text-centric behaviors driving that design really hadn't changed that much, certainly not for loyal BlackBerry users anyway."

In fact, Enderle said touchscreen phones require more of a user's attention and have contributed to texting-while-driving safety problems. "Physical keyboards are still preferred for mobile computers and are perceived to be faster than screen keyboards," Enderle said. "Even iPads have a very high keyboard-attach rate."

The Q10 is the kind of product that BlackBerry had to produce, Enderle said. "For BlackBerry, physical keyboard users represent BlackBerry's most loyal segment of users, and keeping that group happy is core to BlackBerry's survival as a company," he said.

When asked if the Q10 might catch on with non-BlackBerry customers on other smartphone platforms, the analysts were doubtful.

At a suggested price of $249 with a two-year contract, the price for the Q10 will be too high for young texters, said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner. "Qwerty has been successful for heavy texters and emailers," she said. "I believe there still is a market for qwerty in both emerging and mature markets, but this is not all up for grabs for BlackBerry alone."

Milanesi said business users "still want a qwerty, but that is not a big enough market for BlackBerry to guarantee a comeback."

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, estimated that 15% to 25% of the smartphone market is primarily email-oriented and would be interested in a qwerty device.


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