The virtual keyboard in RIM’s upcoming BlackBerry 10 was certainly a point of emphasis at the BlackBerry World conference in Orlando this morning, but despite its functionality appearing to be pretty intuitive, it’s left me concerned. I’ve been a BlackBerry owner for over two years, joining with a Curve 8520 and then later abandoning it in favour of the Bold 9900, while testing out the Curve 9380 for review in between. The 9380, as BlackBerry aficionados will know, is an all-touch phone, and it disappointed me. It was certainly usable, and more so than I expected, but I’m not ready to abandon a physical keyboard on a phone that I use primarily for text-based communication.
I suppose that puts me in the minority as far as the consumer demographic goes, since the success of the iPhone, all-touch Android phones, and their respective app marketplaces have shown that millions of people have embraced the touch screen as a sole form of input. My own sister swears by the touch screen on her iPhone, whereas I’m reluctant to even touch it. It’s a form of input that seems to encourage making mistakes, with software dedicated to attempting immediate automatic correction. On my BlackBerry Bold 9900, I type accurately (and arguably quicker than any iPhone owners I know), and that’s the way I like it.
I like the virtual keyboard on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet well enough, but tablets and phones are very different things, even though even I’m inclined to joke about their similarities (and don’t even get me started on the Galaxy Note). The PlayBook is 7” big, which means the keys are large enough to press with a higher degree of accuracy than on a tiny phone – and physical keys of that site would be exhausting to press, since there’s no way I could access them all by moving only my thumbs. I’m not opposed to virtual keyboards altogether, but I’ll keep using phones with physical keyboards for as long as phone manufacturers make them.
That leads me on to my big BlackBerry 10 concern: although we haven’t actually seen a real BlackBerry 10 phone, the “dev alpha” model that’s been officially distributed to thousands of application developers is all-touch, and the glimpses of the operating system we saw today were clearly designed for an all-touch device. Research In Motion CEO Thorsten Heins did say “this is not the final device, we’re still keeping some secrets to ourselves” just this morning, but if those secrets don’t include a BlackBerry 10 phone with the form factor of the BlackBerry Bold 9900, it may just be a step in the wrong direction for the Canadian manufacturer.