RIM Confirms First BB10 Device will not Feature Physical Keypad

The first handset to run the new BlackBerry operating system will not feature a physical QWERTY keypad, RIM has confirmed.

Rebecca Freiburger, a spokesperson for the Canadian manufacturer, told the Washington Post that although BB10 will eventually come to QWERTY devices it will initially launch on a full touchscreen phone.

The confirmation isn’t completely unexpected. During BlackBerry World 2012, RIM’s showcase event which focused on developments with the new operating system, test devices were given out to software developers. These handsets, which were dubbed the BB10 Dev Alpha, featured a full-touchscreen layout with a 4.2-inch display.

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins demonstrated three main features that will be included in BB10 during his keynote speech at the event. Most indicative of the firm’s new attitude towards QWERTYs was the intuitive onscreen keypad that is said to form an integral part of the new OS. Other features, such as the time-shift camera function and flowing multi-tasking system, look like they are designed to work on a large touchscreen rather than the smaller displays that synonymous with BlackBerry handsets.

Is this a wise move from RIM? The BlackBerry brand has been an iconic in mobile design circles for many years, with a variety of devices based around that well-known format of a small display and a physical keypad. Business users and casual consumers alike have been drawn to BlackBerry handsets for the ease of use when typing emails or using the free BB Messenger instant-messaging service. While certainly not the most modern design in mobile, the traditional BlackBerry layout has given the range something distinctive –  a unique selling point that sets it apart from other manufacturers.

But there is a problem with that unique selling point – it isn’t selling. RIM has recently announced a 25% drop in sales of its devices, with a $2.2bn fall in profits over the last financial year. The company has embarked on a mission to cut $1bn from its operating costs before the end of 2012 and has announced thousands of redundancies over the last few months. In light of this, sticking to the company’s traditional user base could spell the end for RIM.

These cost cutting measures seem to point towards RIM streamlining its business model, moving away from the huge range of BlackBerry devices that were available in the past to a more focused, less diverse approach. A long-standing partnership with fellow Canadian firm Celestica came to an end just last week, possibly suggesting that RIM is aiming to simplify its means of production.

Diehard BlackBerry fans will no doubt be pleased to hear that they aren’t being cut out of the loop entirely and that a BB10 device with a physical keypad will eventually be produced, although no timeline for its release has been given as of the time of writing. In the meantime, RIM is a company that is having to undergo a massive change in the way that it operates in order to survive. Moving away from the most distinctive, identifiable feature of its devices must be daunting but could well be the step that ultimately decides the manufacturer’s fate.

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