Co.Design

Separated At Birth: The $1,800 Porsche BlackBerry And The First Google Phone Concept

The similarity tells you a lot about the woes of BlackBerry, and their failure to adapt.

In the world of federal employees and Bluetooth-clad M&A bankers, BlackBerry smartphone design is king. But outside John McCain’s Senate office bathroom, the general public has been far less receptive to RIM, a company that’s almost void of leadership, and that’s lost tens of billions of dollars in market value and suffered plummeting market share at the hands of Apple and Google.

So it’s no surprise that one of the latest phones RIM is touting—the BlackBerry P’9981—is a cluttered slab of metal with more keys than a church organ. Not even its design partnership with Porsche could save this ($1,800!) device, which launched recently in the U.S. and begins shipping overseas this week. It perfectly captures BlackBerry’s outmoded design thinking, and today, we finally have proof of just how out of touch the company is with the wants of modern-day consumers.

Earlier this week, concept designs for the original "Google Phone" leaked in the search giant’s legal battle with Oracle—and the design looks tellingly similar to the P’9981 and many of BlackBerry’s other form factors. This is remarkable for two reasons: Not only because Google designed this BlackBerry-like prototype in 2006—a half-dozen years before the P’9981 would hit market—but because Google ultimately decided not to ship devices based on this prototype.

Google and its Android partners smartly realized the world was drifting away from keyboards, and its hardware design followed suit. Now, like Apple, Android and Windows smartphone makers are trying to eliminate as many buttons as possible to let the touch screen and software do all the work—it’s been rumored that Apple might even nix the one remaining button on its iPhone.

RIM, on the other hand, seems intent on jamming as many buttons onto the device as physically possible, which makes the hardware experience about as pleasing as using a TI-89 calculator. In the ideal BlackBerry world, I imagine devices would likely come with a separate numpad to entice customers in the accounting industry.

In March, newly appointed RIM CEO Thorston Heins said the company would exit the consumer market, and refocus on its enterprise business. Better late than never: BlackBerry’s addiction to QWERTY has hindered the company’s consumer appeal. With barely an inch or two of screen real estate, navigation on BlackBerrys has always been a pain, and the potential for app development has been terribly limited.

In 2006, Google was clearly toying with how to fit alt keys and scroll wheels onto its prototype—and the company certainly dodged a bullet by deciding to take a different path.

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14 Comments

  • Simon @ StormStudios

    Let's get back to the phone, whether it looks like the Google phone or not, on a design stance it is truly horrendous. I can't believe this has had one flicker of Porsche design magic devoted to it. Not good at all in my opinion.

  • $5403434

    I'm sorry, but this is probably the most poorly written and researched article I've ever read on FastCoDesign.  Beyond the the existence of a keyboard, there doesn't seem to be any parallel between the Blackberry Porsche to Google's original phone designs.  There isn't even a very good comparison of the similarities.

  • dexel

    I have been reading fastco when i can since i discovered it a few months ago, i have to say i think it is the best of its kind for the emerging interesting mix of business innovation and design threads. I recently read a post by the founder which had a number of comments under it, one of which stated it was great apart form the short-sightedness of some of the contributors. I was, until i read this ridiculous post, perplexed at that comment. Thank you Mr Carr for making it clear you are that author. I shall not go into the detail of ludicrous your post is, it is not worth it. If you don't have the time or ability to write a coherent article why bother? 

  • CD

    Uhhh.. Other than the fact that these phones both have keyboards, they are nothing alike. What's the point?

  • Jordan Andrews

    lol is this a joke? It doesn't look anything like the P'9981! Why would you think that? Because it's silver and has a qwerty keyboard? Wow 

  • bajbajbaj1

    I wonder, Mr. Carr, exactly how much you were paid by Apple to write this biased, factually incorrect piece of journalistic trash? Let's start with some FACTS to freshen up this article. This phone is nothing new; it's meant for the ultra-rich business people out there that won't think twice about dropping 2 grand on a cell phone AND it was released about a month or two after the Bold 9900 was (that's AUGUST 2011 for your information).
    "RIM, on the other hand, seems intent on jamming as many buttons onto the device as physically possible, which makes the hardware experience about as pleasing as using a TI-89 calculator. "
    This phone has just as many buttons as the Bold AND Curve series (and ANY OTHER QWERTY KEYBOARD ON THE PLANET). You make it sound like it has twice the amount of buttons a normal QWERTY keyboard has!
    "Not even its design partnership with Porsche could save this ($1,800!) device,"
    I don't understand where your coming from on this one because Porsche designed this phone, not RIM. If it's not aesthetically pleasing to you that's Porsche's fault, not RIM.   
    "With barely an inch or two of screen real estate" Actually the screen is 2.8 inches. I know your trying to make the phone sound as bad as possible but 2.8 inches is about THREE TIMES MORE THEN "barely an inch". Isn't the beloved iPhone a 3.5 inch screen? Damn, that's pretty close to each other.
    "In the ideal BlackBerry world, I imagine devices would likely come with a separate numpad to entice customers in the accounting industry."
    No, in the ideal Blackberry world we would all have screens that are half an inch bigger so we watch as "journalists" such as yourself can fish for some other reason to jump on the bandwagon and bash the most secure and data efficient phones on the planet (yes, that's right! All Blackberry data, weather it be a simple text or streaming Pandora all day, is sent first to BlackBerry's servers where the data is encrypted AND compressed. Having half the amount of data consumption of any other phone out there really helps when you don't have an unlimited data plan. But who needs to save money in this economy?!?!? Pffffffttt!
    I am a sales manager for a rather large company in New Jersey and I'm never in my office in from of my computer so when I find myself having to send 30-40 emails a day I'd rather not be staring at my phone screen like a primate all day long so I don't mis-type sensitive information to my clients. Sometimes a QWERTY keyboard is just what the Doctor ordered. I need TOOLS, NOT TOYS! Cheers!
                                                                               --Joz
    Long Live The RIMpire!!!

  • Ian Pollard

    People loved their BlackBerries precisely because they had a proper QWERTY keyboard. Even now -- having had iPhones and now a Galaxy S2 -- I still pine for my old BlackBerry's proper keys. Typing a message on a touchscreen smartphone overlays an enormous, screen-blocking, non-tactile, and imprecise QWERTY. It's truly hateful, even using some of the slide-to-type keyboards available.I put it to the article writer that if BlackBerries have a design flaw (small screen at the expense of a keyboard), it is a flaw that is at least matched by the wretched onscreen keyboards on touchscreen devices. 

  • Phuong

    Funny cos i can typed quicker on the iPhone virtual keypad than a physical one. I guess those Blackberry are workaholic without any other use for their handset.

  • Davidkellydesign

    Cool, a portable keyboard. Even has a little screen, so you can see what you typed. 

  • ImpulseSave

    I sincerely hope that Google makes a better-looking phone than that! Why set yourself up for failure like that? Why don't they just Google search "Why do Blackberry stink?", and they'll get a few tips on a design for a new phone!