BlackBerry announced “the return of the trackpad” early this morning with the “unveiling” of the Q20. Unfortunately for us, this unveiling didn’t actually show anything about the device being announced, but was more of a press release with a few details. We were told the Q20 will be a QWERTY device, with a 3.5″ display and it would bring back the “belt” of send, menu, trackpad, back and end keys with it. We posted a poll asking you guys if this was a good idea or not? Up to now, over 45% of you have said it is, while 55% disagree or are just “meh” about it in general.
I have to side with those that think it’s a bad idea, unfortunately. Bringing back the trackpad and keys is a risk that could end up backfiring.
The “belt” of function keys was originally made because BlackBerry devices lacked touch-enabled displays. The first instances contained the trackwheel on the right side of the device for navigation which then turned into the trackball, and later, the trackpad. The old BlackBerry OS fit the trackpad and keys perfectly, even after touchscreens came around because of how small these screens were. The last high-end device with a trackpad and keys was announced on May 2, 2011. It’s going to be three years in a little over 2 months.
And that’s my first issue with this idea, the Q20 could look really, really dated.
Now, the fear most of us that don’t think this is a good idea have is because we envision a BlackBerry 7 style belt of keys and trackpad (think 9900 or worse 9790) on a Q10, and that mental image looks fugly. If that were to happen, I’ll say it right now, BlackBerry would literally not have innovated at all with its Q20 design, and instead gone backwards in time to borrow the look from a Bold 9900 or 9790. We all give crap to Apple and Samsung when their devices look the same or worse, so BlackBerry could not be an exception if that were to happen. Do I expect that to be the case with the Q20? Not necessarily, but then again I’m not exactly sure how much they can still innovate in the QWERTY keyboard department without looking dated.
Putting aside the fact that going back to a style that was last launched in 2011 is mistake visually, these keys won’t bring back the people they aim to please by just existing. The problem is deeper than 5 buttons.
According to BlackBerry, a lot of their existing user base in the BES realm refuses to upgrade to BlackBerry 10 because of the lack of trackpad and belt keys. In reality, they probably miss the BlackBerry legacy experience as a whole.
We can tell BlackBerry’s main target audience hasn’t adjusted to BB10 well from older OSes when BlackBerry added a BlackBerry Hub icon with their 10.2 update last year. These stubborn business men and women couldn’t comprehend having the Hub just a simple swipe away, so BlackBerry gave in, and gave them an icon to click on. To be honest, I’m surprised we haven’t seen an Email icon for each account yet like with text messaging. I’m sure some people have wondered why there isn’t one of these icons around yet.
But I digress.
Slapping buttons on a keyboard isn’t going to solve the fundamental problem BlackBerry has getting these people to switch from legacy BlackBerry devices: BlackBerry 10 is completely different than BlackBerry 7, BlackBerry 6 and BlackBerry 5, and people are scared of change.
BlackBerry has always had problems getting business users to upgrade too. This isn’t a new issue. The reason there are so many Bold 9000 and Curve 8500s out there running OS 5 or even lower is not because of a lack of options. BlackBerry 6 and BlackBerry 7 blew these devices out of the water when they were launched and had trackpads and function keys, yet so many businesses still refused to upgrade. The pattern apparently still hasn’t broken nowadays, but thinking a trackpad and some keys on a BB10 smartphone will be the determining factor to get these people on board seems foolish.
I will say, BlackBerry may completely surprise us by releasing a sick smartphone that features a reinvented trackpad and function key design along with a slick QWERTY keyboard that makes this whole post look ridiculous. I hope I’m wrong in thinking this is a bad move. I hope they do sell to these millions of users that claim to want a trackpad. I hope it’s not viewed by the majority of consumers and business users alike as a step backward, but at this point in time, BlackBerry hasn’t given us much to work with. If you “unveil” a device, but not show it, you’re putting yourself up for speculation on both the positive and negative sides of the argument.
The second half of 2014 cannot get here soon enough.