The Q10 marks the return of the qwerty keyboard. This is something we applaud because the touchscreen version, the Z10, landed in the weeds while recent Apple and Samsung devices have found the fairway.
You may recall that I wasn't a fan of launching the touch screen version first. In fact I asked Why is BlackBerry Launching a Touch Phone? and pointed out that BlackBerry Should Watch its Zs and Qs.
There have been some positive reviews of the Q10, and by all accounts, the BB10 OS running both is a very good modern operating system with competent cornerstone software including the browser.
But there are voices disparaging the continuation of older form factors, lamenting a lack of "innovation" beyond the BlackBerry devices of a decade ago. The ArsTechnica assessment that, "It looks like a Bold and the Z10 had a baby, with the Z10 having mostly recessive genes," we might be getting to the heart of it.
If the Z10 proved anything, it was that the touchscreen form factor has become standardized across brands throughout the industry. The only real innovation came at the launch of the original iPhone in 2007. Aside from larger screens from Samsung and cosmetic changes with glass or aluminum housings, can anyone argue that the touchscreen design has changed much over the last six years?
Surely, there was no utility in Apple's iPhone 4 series (added a glass back) or the iPhone 5 (trading aluminum for glass). While the iPhone 5 is a better device, it has nothing to do with the industrial design. The camera and the A6 processor improve upon the predecessors.
My point is that if the six year old touchscreen paradigm is fine as is, why should anyone argue against the physical keyboard configuration from the same era? There could be a perception that touchscreens have been continuously improving with new products arriving regularly throughout the last six years or so. On the other hand, devices with physical keyboards have been few and far between.
The gap might make the new Q10 seem like an out-of-date idea. But the fact is that it really doesn't matter when the form factor first appeared. What matters is whether not there is anything better. Although I am not a BlackBerry or tactile keyboard devotee, I think the Q10 is offering the pinnacle of the design in the category. A design for a particular application can only be refined so far. Then you're just adding fins.
Finally, it is encouraging to think that perhaps the strategy of launching the touchscreen Z10 was less error in judgment and more a means to provide empirical evidence of where BlackBerry's strengths are and the direction it should be taking.
The Q10 versus Z10 in the marketplace may just prove that there is no point trying to take on Apple and Samsung, but there is a good reason to give a core group of users what they want. Maybe the Q10 will be enough to quiet the "me too" influences inside BlackBerry and the external ones in the investment community.