It could sound surprising but the new BlackBerry Q10 is my first physical QWERTY smartphone, coming from four years of full-touch smartphone usage, to type using those soft physical keys on Q10 has been a unique experience. I have been using both the BlackBerry Z10 (last 4 months) and Q10 (last 6 weeks), both almost contrasting in formfactors as well as interaction experience.
The touch-friendly BB10 User Interface and Interaction is simply fresh and extraordinary but some feature phone upgraders and even traditional BlackBerry users might find it a bit overwhelming at start. The smartphone comes loaded with host of useful and differentiated applications and services such as BlackBerry Hub (Very Useful Notification center), BlackBerry Remember (All Note Taking in one place), BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) Video with Screen Sharing and BlackBerry Balance (Two profiles: work and personal a key solution to attract enterprise users and attack BYOD trend). However, the BlackBerry Balance still requires the user to have BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) support to enable “work” profile and won’t work for users with enterprises which have not deployed BES. This is something BlackBerry needs to work on to attract more BYOD users.
While the new BlackBerry 10 physical QWERTY keyboard has left out the famous BlackBerry navigation "trackpad" but it is nicely replaced by the number of touchscreen gestures and smart typing features on the device. The universal type-to-search or action (e.g. open app, contact, etc.) using physical keyboard is a unique differentiator for BlackBerry Q10. However, I did miss the intuitive "word prediction & flick typing" feature implemented in Z10 virtual keyboard. Nevertheless, Z10's word prediction engine is still integrated in Q10 as well, very useful and saves tons of keystrokes which makes typing a breeze and simply outstanding.
Q10 definitely comes in a "cute" form-factor with a high pixel density (330 ppi) but a tiny 3.1 inch 720p touch screen Super AMOLED display coupled with the world's best smartphone physical QWERTY keyboard. From our analysis, QWERTY SKUs have been dropping left and right in BlackBerry competitors’ smartphone portfolio and Q10 should help BlackBerry differentiate with the “best QWERTY smartphone experience” in smartphone space and in a form-factor which is super light, thin and also with a full-snappy touchscreen BB10 experience integrated. The BlackBerry loyalists and keyboard lovers will look forward to this device to provide an unparalleled "touch & type" experience. The device is powered by Qualcomm’s 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus processor with 2GB of RAM and Adreno 225 GPU, NFC, 8MP rear and 2MP front cameras, Bluetooth v 4.0, microSD and is 4G LTE ready like Z10.
Multiple Form-factors introduces App Store Fragmentation in BB10 Platform:
The Q10 QWERTY form-factor helps Blackberry differentiate and maintain the QWERTY keyboard leadership but at the same time introduces fragmentation in BlackBerry 10 platform in terms of applications development and availability of apps across different form-factors. For example, developers have to specially tweak the BB10 apps designed for Z10 to fit the 720x720 3.1 inch formfactor of Q10. A simple app store search revealed the gap in terms of apps which are available for Z10 but not yet for Q10. Also, Skype app was first announced for Q10 and then for Z10 separately which is not encouraging signs for the BlackBerry developers. BlackBerry will have to find ways to resolve this issue and make sure that the development process is painless, uniform and QWERTY BB10 devices are not deprived of apps which are available on full-touchscreen BB10 devices or vice-versa.
App Fragmentation Example: Q10 vs. Z10
Pricing: Very Expensive
Secondly, on the pricing side the unlocked retail price (~US$600+) is on the higher side than expected and BlackBerry needs to launch multiple sub US$300 retail price-point models to target the emerging markets and younger segments and lock them in BB10 experience in coming quarters. This will drive broader adoption of BB10 this year as developed market consumers are still higher on the scale to choose iOS and Android platforms ahead of other platforms in near- to mid-term.
To summarize, Q10 is a solid differentiated “touch & type” offering by BlackBerry which will help BlackBerry maintain it legacy, style and attract millions of BlackBerry purists and loyalists as well as consumers with iOS or Android fatigue which in past have been BlackBerry users. However, the different form-factor also brings in an unwarranted app store fragmentation and the very higher retail pricing (unsubsidized and subsidized) will certainly raise some eyebrows and barriers to achieve tens of millions in volumes per quarter run-rate as Q10 is essentially competing in a very premium-tier against the behemoths such as Samsung Galaxy S4 or Apple iPhone 5 the world’s best-selling smartphone models.