BlackBerry 10: A Tale of Two Keyboards

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, opening paragraph

The flurry created last Thursday by an AP story on RIM’s BlackBerry 10 keyboards provided a pragmatic example of how the mainstream media and financial analysts are simply looking for any thread to portray RIM as having “the worst of times, the age of foolishness, the epoch of incredulity the season of Darkness, the winter of despair …” – you get the picture (and have probably read a few of the reports).

The flurry was over the BlackBerry 10’s keyboard options. When first demonstrated at BlackBerry World in Orlando in early May, we saw a touch-screen keyboard. The following day RIM CEO Thorsten Heins squelched stories about the lack of a physical keyboard by announcing that, yes, it will be followed by a device with a physical keyboard.

But some reporters and analysts persist in ” all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only”.

Looking at a statement in a Globe and Mail report yesterday:

A spokeswoman for RIM has confirmed to The Canadian Press that the first BlackBerry 10 device will have touch-screen keyboards — but not physical ones.

However, Rebecca Freiburger says that the new operating system “will be offered on products with physical keyboards in the future.”

and all the press stories that followed one would think this was a disaster for RIM. Not only that, as pointed out above, it’s old news!

However, on the same Thursday I also had an opportunity to actually experience the touch-screen keyboard on a “Dev Alpha” device being distributed to pre-qualified developers who attend the BlackBerry 10 Jam World Tour. I had the same demonstration from RIM’s Principal Architect Gary Klassen as recorded by Bla1ze at last week.

My take on this statement and the follow up reporting:

1. The BlackBerry 10 Touch Screen keyboard is innovation at work; it’s not simply a “copy” of the iOS and Android touch keyboards. Basically I could type out a 70 to 80 character text message using only 15 to 20 keystrokes. You significantly reduce the chance of making spelling mistakes. And it changes the user text entry experience; hopefully for the better. Reporters need to get out of “the present” and should be looking for differentiation, not simply positioning competitors as “me too”, for a ground breaking story.

2. Had the RIM spokesperson given any date for launch of a BlackBerry 10 with a physical keyboard it would have trumped the pending announcement of the initial BlackBerry 10 with touch screen keyboard launch date. At the moment this date is a closely guarded company secret as RIM wants to ensure release of a product that is defect-free with respect to all its key features. Nobody at RIM is going to give out any BlackBerry 10 launch date until CEO Thorsten Heins or his designate does. Amongst other issues would be SEC regulatory issues; in fact, RIM is in a quiet period now pending its quarterly earnings release next Thursday.

Basically the BlackBerry 10’s touch screen keyboard is a case of innovation made possible by its dual core hardware with a separate graphics processor combined with QNX’s true multi-tasking capability and overall robustness. This feature is one example of the new user experiences these resources can deliver. With my BlackBerry PlayBook I have seen other examples such as with the web browser that scores at the top on HTML5 scores for tablets. With a current score of 447 BlackBerry 10 also leads in HTML5 rankings for mobiles.

It’s not a case of RIM’s physical keyboard technology vs touch screen keyboards on iOS and Android devices; it’s a matter of innovation on a touch screen by leveraging the hardware and operating system to its maximum potential. The result is entirely new processes for entering text via a touch screen keyboard that will benefit end users provided they can adapt to it relatively quickly.

But information covering the potential of innovation and leveraging new technology is not embedded in the mainstream press’s boiler plate copy for RIM. On slow news days analysts and reporters, who have failed to see how unique technology can be leveraged for more productive user experiences, dredge up an old story. They don’t understand the potential of the technology to impact the user experience so they have to simply look for any obvious trivia to make a story (and potentially impact share price based on incompletely researched information).

Kevin Michaluk at made his case in Yes, there will be a physical keyboard BlackBerry 10 phone!!! and earlier had pointed out his reasons why RIM had to launch with the touch screen keyboard in Why it wouldn’t make sense for RIM to initially launch a BlackBerry 10 phone with a physical keyboard.

Bottom line: Launching a new product in a competitive market requires an age of wisdom, an epoch of belief, a season of Light; RIM has everything before them to make a successful product.

RIM’s BlackBerry 10 needs to deliver significantly different user experiences that drive viral adoption for the BlackBerry 10. It’s not simply a matter of “copying” other smartphones but rather creating an aggregation of unique new user experiences across the device. And that requires innovative thinking.

To the mainstream media I say, we all know the fundamental risks and past sins but, at this point, forget about making a story about such issues. Been there; seen that! It requires innovative thinking and new perspectives, amongst other issues, in order to pull this off. It cannot be a “me too” product.

This is not in any way meant to de-emphasize the need to execute on availability in a timely manner; as rapper Alec Saunders sung in one of the repeated lines of the opening video at the BlackBerry 10 Jam sessions “The waiting is the hardest part”. RIM still has significant challenges going forward to complete a turn around. Rehashing old news is irresponsible reporting.

Oh, by the way, here’s an original story about RIM reported by GigaOm: Which mobile OS’s apps make most money? Surprise! It’s BlackBerry.

Full disclosure: the author’s initial experience with multi-tasking came with the sale of scientific instrumentation incorporating mini-computers around 1980. Since then he has held responsibility for the sale of true multi-tasking products on PC”s running DOS, taking to Canadian market leadership PC hardware and software products that relied on true multi-tasking as a key feature in the pre-Windows 95 era.


About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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