What’s a BlackBerry Without a Keyboard?

stormblackberryRIM’s (s rimm) recently released Blackberry Storm is a device that tries to outdo Apple’s (s aapl) iPhone by including a beefed-up OS, polishing up the interface and marrying it to a really fast 3G network (instead of AT&T’s pokey 3G network.) The device even has visual voice mail, and a cut-and-paste feature. And oh by the way, RIM got rid of the the keyboard and got itself a touch screen.
Verizon (s vz) seems to have orchestrated a nice launch and the early reviews give the Storm a thumbs up. If you believe everything reviewers say, then you gotta wonder: Why has RIM only gotten around to making BlackBerrys like the Storm (and the Bold) now? I think it was due to a lack of imagination — and fear of taking risks. Now that that iPhone has made touch screens cool, RIM is jumping on the bandwagon.
Our own James Kendrick has taken an in-depth look at the Storm and has posted his findings on jkOnTheRun, along with a fantastic video that takes you through the pros and cons of the device. He sent in his thoughts for our readers:

The Storm is unusual for a Blackberry as it lacks a physical keyboard of any kind. The screen is a large display that uses SurePress technology from RIM that makes it feel like using a physical thumb board when you type on the screen. In our brief experience it works very well and we won’t be surprised to see the Storm take off in the consumer space.

He seems to like the device a lot (You can find his complete review at jkOnTheRun). I, however, am not sold on it.
While I can live without a keyboard on iPhone, I cannot do the same on a BlackBerry. One of the reasons I like BlackBerry is the physical QWERTY keyboard. The Bold’s keyboard was one of the reasons I gave that device a big thumbs up. The keyboard and push email make BlackBerry a device to love because it allows you to plow through copious amount of email when on the go. The reason I carry both an iPhone and a BlackBerry 8800 is because I use the first one for browsing and talking, while the other is for everything that involves text: Google Talk, Twitter, Facebook messages and of course, staying on top of a steady torrent of daily email.
As Walt Mossberg says, “[U]sing the Storm’s keyboard is much more like using the iPhone’s keyboard than a traditional BlackBerry’s. I found that I could type quite well on the Storm after awhile, but that a greater adjustment, and more practice, were required than with a physical keyboard.” He is also miffed that you get a Suretype keyboard when the device is held in vertical and goes into a QWERTY mode only when the device is held horizontally. I agree — it’s a boneheaded UI feature.
I am of the opinion that devices that stick to their true strengths are the ones that succeed the most. Apple is winning with the iPhone because touch is an integral part of the entire experience. All the applications are being built on top of that experience. In losing its keyboard with the Storm, this BlackBerry device has lost some of its uniqueness.
The Storm reminds me of the St. Louis Cardinals phenom Rich Ankiel, who was an awesome pitcher till he flamed out, got hurt and came back as an outfielder and a hitter. He scored a lot of runs last seasons, but he isn’t a center fielder like Mickey Mantle. He is just another player. Storm will be that — just another touch-screen smartphone.
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Photo Courtesy of RIM