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.
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.
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.