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

But can BlackBerry attract users on other platforms?

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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.

"Get on the plane and look at all the businesspeople still hanging on to hardware keyboard devices," he said. "I do think there will be a ready base of users on BlackBerry wanting to upgrade. But will that be the majority of the market? Probably not."

Even if the Q10's price isn't low enough to attract young texters, there are at least four more phones coming in 2013 from BlackBerry, and some of those could feature qwerty designs at lower prices, Burden said.

Nokia on Wednesday introduced the qwerty Asha 210, with a 2.4-in. screen that is integrated with social networking features. With a street price of $72, it falls into the category of an "advanced feature phone," not a full smartphone, with its powerful processor and other features.

Burden said it's unlikely BlackBerry can build a young clientele with low-cost qwerty texting devices overnight, although he said BlackBerry Messenger is becoming a full-functioning social network that could lure more users to BlackBerry.

Clewley said the phone maker plans to talk more about BlackBerry Messenger at its BlackBerry Live event in May. HE noted that BBM is popular in Europe and has moved beyond an instant messaging app to include instant videoconferencing and voice conferencing in the BB 10 devices.

"BBM is already viewed as BlackBerry's social network," Burden said. Sales of the Q10 and future qwerty BlackBerry devices could be helped by greater interest in BBM, he said.

"But BBM won't get bigger until you can download it to iOS and Android," Burden said. "SMS never took off until it was interoperable on all networks. BBM on some BlackBerry devices will stay a niche until the time it becomes an application on other platforms."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

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