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Can BlackBerry Single-Handedly Prove Steve Jobs Wrong?

Way back in 2007 -- in what now feels like ancient history -- Steve Jobs gave what many consider his best product unveiling ever: the iPhone. The Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) co-founder started off by assessing the current state of the smartphone market and displayed a handful of current smartphones of the day.

Jobs showed the Motorola Q, BlackBerry (NASDAQ: BBRY  ) Pearl, Palm Treo, and Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) E62 as examples of not-so-smart smartphones.

Source: Apple.

The biggest flaw that they all shared was in what he called the "bottom 40%," referring to the lower 40% of their form factors being dedicated to hardware keyboards with fixed physical keys that couldn't accommodate new software features that may be subsequently released.

Source: Apple.

It's worth noting that of the four smartphone makers that Jobs highlighted, two are currently fighting for their lives while the other two are no longer stand-alone entities: Motorola was split up with Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) snapping up the mobile side and Hewlett-Packard will never live down its acquisition of Palm.

Three of them -- along with virtually every other major smartphone manufacturer in the world -- have abandoned prominent hardware keyboards in high-end devices. Almost no one offers flagship devices with a full QWERTY keyboard intended for portrait usage. To be fair, some companies like Nokia and Samsung offer QWERTY keyboards, but only in models that are clearly targeted at the low end.

For all intents and purposes, BlackBerry is the only one left standing in the high end of that niche. Can BlackBerry's new Q10 single-handedly prove Steve Jobs wrong?

BlackBerry's final stronghold
That device is very much expected to price at the high end when it launches in the U.S.: $250 on contract. That's a premium relative to the iPhone, flagship Androids, and BlackBerry's own Z10. That's a bold bet on QWERTY. However, many of BlackBerry's most loyal fans are hardware keyboard enthusiasts and have been patiently waiting for the new generation.

BlackBerry has tried defending itself over the years, only to see iOS and Android continue their siege. QWERTY keyboards may be its last stronghold, particularly since iOS and Android have no interest whatsoever in pursuing that segment.

The Q10 has launched in the U.K., and anecdotal evidence suggests a strong start. CEO Thorsten Heins told Bloomberg that he expects unit sales in the "tens of millions." The device's Canadian launch is imminent, but specific details regarding U.S. availability remain elusive.

Early reviews have begun to hit the web with an overall lukewarm reception. The Q10 is undoubtedly the best QWERTY hardware device now, but that's partially due to a lack of meaningful competition. There's nothing about it that will win touchscreen users back to hardware keyboards, though.

The device is very clearly positioned toward die-hard keyboard enthusiasts, which is a declining subset of the broader market. Flagship QWERTY keyboards will never be mainstream again.

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Read/Post Comments (16) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 30, 2013, at 9:20 PM, Biffbutkus1 wrote:

    Well, I heard that QWERTY is the new thirty.

  • Report this Comment On April 30, 2013, at 9:24 PM, penny4urstocks wrote:

    Niche is always a nice thing to have. Virtual keyboards still have their flaws. With the physical you press what you press and feel more in control. Smaller screen yes but corporate people have to feel more comfortable with these when it comes to fast typing with minimum typos.

  • Report this Comment On April 30, 2013, at 9:39 PM, Oril wrote:

    Wow, you really are stunned.

    I hope you are in deep with your blackberry shorts because we are going to squeeze your nuts really bad.

  • Report this Comment On April 30, 2013, at 10:10 PM, Oril wrote:

    Only six years after iPhone first generation was released by Jobs and it has now been designated obsolete with no hope of obtaining parts or repair by apple. Now Jobs is dead and his baby is following him to the grave. Subsequent iPhone clones 3,4, and 5 with no meaningful changes will soon follow.

    The really sad part of this story is that apple has has come up with nothing to replace it and is even using the same tired old operating system.

    It seems their only option now is to go into debt attempting to bribe investors to stick around while the stock price goes back to 2007 levels. This is what happens when a company is so confused it doesn't know whether it wants to be a computer company, a music company, a phone company or now it fancies itself as a bank.

    Just a matter of time now for it to implode while Cook walks away with billions.

  • Report this Comment On April 30, 2013, at 11:12 PM, OracleofOmahaha wrote:

    Jobs was and still is right. Physical keyboards are for tired old farts who are unable to adapt to anything new. If you cannot manage a virtual keyboard then forget about using a phone. You should go back to using a manual typewriter. Keep living in your little fantasy world bbry suck ups while technology keeps moving on and leaves you in the dust.

  • Report this Comment On April 30, 2013, at 11:43 PM, BlackberryIsKing wrote:

    Steve Jobs was not a brilliant man. He was not a genius. He WAS a scum bag, had no friends, and everyone hated him, including his family. He was a prick. Read his biography. The only thing he did well was steal ideas from brilliant people and spin them. He made billions doing it, so you have to give him credit, but he was not the person people thought he was. The geniuses worked for RIM (now Blackberry).

    So of course Blackberry can prove Steve Jobs wrong.

    BBRY is NOT going away, EVER. I've always believed what Thorsten Heins has said, that RIM / Blackberry is a new company The new q10 looks and feels every fantastic. Pre-sales are off the chart. UK sales are way ahead of expectations. This Q10 has everything to do with proving people right. Blackberry is the future. Apple is history.

    Long Blackberry!!

    p.s., Where's Waldo (aka InfoThatNeedsHelp)? ROTFLMFAO!!!

  • Report this Comment On April 30, 2013, at 11:47 PM, BlackberryIsKing wrote:

    @OracleofOblivion: Wake up man. Jobs was a low-life. BBRY is the future. Apple is done, stick a fork in them. The Q10 is still wanted by millions. The Z10 makes the iToy look like a can with a string. You are clearly without much education. Go back to your janitorial job with your iToy and enjoy.

  • Report this Comment On April 30, 2013, at 11:52 PM, stockinvestorawu wrote:

    @oril back to 2007 levels? Please. At the beginning of 2011 apple stock was in the low 300s

    Also blackberry is the future? Apple sells phones at a 35 million per quarter rate, even if they haven't "innovated." Blackberry will never do that

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2013, at 12:10 AM, fatcells wrote:

    You make the statement:

    "Flagship QWERTY keyboards will never be mainstream again" with such an assurance...unless you are a certified prophet with credential given by GOD, let us stay with "NEVER SAY NEVER"

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2013, at 4:53 AM, Arthur1111 wrote:

    BlackBerry is re-inventing the QWERTY keyboard for high end smart phones. It is actually more expensive than the iPhone or the BlackBerry Z10.

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2013, at 7:30 AM, RandomMeaning wrote:

    A few comments:

    qwerty is a niche which BlackBerry can serve well. As long as they can do so profitably, I'd call that a success. But it's a niche with a diminishing population. The advantages of using space for the screen instead of an always present keyboard are just too great. It's a niche for people who refuse to adapt.

    Once again we have a BlackBerry vigilante posting hate. This is unfortunate because it only dings the BlackBerry brand by painting its users as poorly informed, out of touch, and hateful people. Also you really aren't helping the company you supposedly love by setting up expectations that BlackBerry cannot achieve.

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2013, at 7:33 AM, infektu wrote:

    Why rush prophecies? (unless you're short the stock of course).

    There are trade-offs between hard QWERTY and full screen, and they are all one search away.

    (some less mentioned: blind typing, keyboard shortcuts, independence of voice recognition, crucial for confidential info, etc)

    More full screen phones will be sold, since more people use them as an entertainment extension. Will the percentage of "workhorse phones" be 2%? 20%?

    We'll see. But it's amazing how many armchair prophets are quick to dismiss the market studies made by companies before they launch their products. They might not prove 100% precise (they almost never are), but they are far batter than crystal ball reading.


    >> "If you cannot manage a virtual keyboard then forget about using a phone."

    If you cannot fathom more than one form factor, go get some help.

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2013, at 9:14 AM, TIMNPAWC wrote:

    Here is what I want.

    A cool reliable Q10 with everything I need to work and play. But.... when I want to watch a movie on the train or in a car, plane or hotel, I take my 8X10 screen from my bag and use it, powered by the Q10. Why would I want to pay for twice the internals that I really need. And when I get to the office or my home, I drop my phone into the docking station with large screen, storage, printer, etc.

    Oops, Thorsten is making waves by saying something similar, no?

    Tablets fit a need. When the need is replaced with an evolved solution, the need goes away. When was the last time you saw a pager?

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2013, at 9:20 AM, magnaman1969 wrote:

    The QWERTY keyboard market HAS been in decline. Down to between 60 - 80 Million users globally from a high of over 200 million.

    The decline has not been because of a dislike of hard keys but because the qwerty phones didn't offer the same multimedia features as all touch devices.

    That changes with the Q10.

    There is a market for both.

    The typing experience is quicker and more accurate and that is a FACT.

    BlackBerry has addressed BOTH markets with the Z10 and Q10.

    Its about garnering market share and giving your core customers what they want(Q10) and at the same time looking to expand (Z10).

    Blackberry will also offer a 5 inch "Phablet" device as there is a growing market there as well.

    They are doing it right...steadying the ship and living on to grow a reinvented company.

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2013, at 1:41 PM, cbglobal wrote:

    Enthusiasts still drive a stick shift.

  • Report this Comment On May 02, 2013, at 10:04 PM, BlackberryIsKing wrote:

    The Z10 and the Q10 are the best smartphones on the planet. They are far far better than the iToy (anything is), and much better than the S4, and leaps and bounds better than the sorry Nokia jokes. Long Blackberry! Blackberry rules, Apple sucks.

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