It never fails. Whether in an elevator, at a restaurant, or even on a friend's couch, my BlackBerry Q10 sticks out among the sea of iPhones and Android devices. "Is that a BlackBerry? Are they still making those?"
How the mighty has fallen. The once-dominant mobile device maker's BlackBerry 10 never got traction in the mobile OS world today, and word's out that the company is no longer making BB10 smartphones. With BlackBerry shifting its efforts to secure Android, the cadre of rabid fans who've remained loyal will soon need to decide where to go next. I am a relative newcomer, as the Q10 was both my first smartphone and my first BlackBerry, and it has treated me well.
No touchscreen for me
Holding out for a smartphone with a keyboard was a no-brainer. While the rest the world scrambled to get the latest iPhone and Android smartphones, I stuck with my trusty Nokia because touchscreens and I don't get along. Perhaps it's the dry skin, or my hands are too cold, but it made no sense for me to get a shiny smartphone and repeatedly jab at the screen. With the Q10, I could join the smartphone world and keep my keyboard.
BlackBerry users love the keyboard, but the rest of the world seems quite happy with the on-screen version. Even with the Q10, at times I have to repeatedly tap the screen. The BlackBerry Classic that replaced the Q10 is like the once-ubiquitous BlackBerry Bold, with an option to navigate the screen from the keyboard. I would have liked that on the Q10.
Apps for only what I need
Yes, the apps catalog for BlackBerry is skimpy compared to what's available for iPhone and Android. Lucky for me, I don't use a lot of apps, and BlackBerry has the ones I need. My phone is still a phone, and I use it for text messaging. It's not a multimedia entertainment device, gaming platform, or a productivity suite.
That's not to say I can't do those things -- I can make slideshows and videos out of pictures taken with the camera, play Angry Birds when I am utterly bored, listen to Slacker radio, and scroll through my Twitter feed. I Skype, check my email, share files via Dropbox, and sync my notes with Evernote. I installed a Kanban board app to manage my always out-of-control to-do-list. Many conferences offer a HTML5 app nowadays, and that works on the Q10.
I have an Android tablet that I use for the few apps not supported on my BlackBerry, like Slack and Signal. I prefer the larger screen to view PDF files and edit documents, so I don't even bother trying to squint as I would on a phone. Reading e-books is much more comfortable on a bigger screen. As long as I split my apps usage based on screen size, the Q10 will continue to meet my needs.
BlackBerry is still very security- and privacy-focused
Considering the Q10 is nearly three years old, the fact that BlackBerry still regularly updates the handset is reassuring. Apple also does a decent job of letting users update to the latest iOS version, but Android's process is fragmented and inconsistent. BlackBerry regularly pushes out software updates for the Q10 -- and apps -- and it's extremely easy to do.
BlackBerry devices may be the most secure smartphones available, but it doesn't seem to matter much to the average user. Perhaps iPhones are good enough for most, and there are great privacy options for Android (I love Signal for secure messaging, for example). I like BlackBerry Messenger, and I like the built-in device management, which keeps personal and work data separate.
BlackBerry has always been security-oriented, and that isn't going to change anytime soon.
Ironically, with BlackBerry's decline, security by obscurity is a real thing. There are too few BlackBerrys in use for hackers to bother with them. It's not a good strategy to base security on the assumption that attackers don't know the platform well enough (or care enough) to attack, but in the case of BlackBerry, there is a slight advantage. I assume BlackBerry users are protected from opportunistic attacks because there are so few of us.
Despite all the back-and-forth about mobile threats, most of the malicious apps have focused on iOS and Android, particularly Android. It would be premature to assume threats won't eventually make their way to HTML5 apps, though. The nature of software development means there are overlaps and shared code, which means threats targeting other platforms can conceivably affect BlackBerry. Thus, BlackBerry's regular OS updates are essential for peace of mind even with its security-through-obscurity "advantage."
I don't want to break up, but is it time?
Being loyal to BlackBerry requires commitment. Cellular carriers don't make it easy to buy BlackBerry devices. The BlackBerry Classic is the only BlackBerry smartphone my carrier still offers, and I sometimes wonder if I should scoop it up before my Q10 finally dies. With the company no longer making the hardware, I may need to hit eBay to find old stock.
I also know that once BlackBerry stops supporting BB10, the Q10's security advantages disappear.
Then there's the BlackBerry Priv, a security- and privacy-focused smartphone running a modified version of Android released late last year. The Priv is hard to find. Despite calling 20 different T-Mobile locations in New York City, I have yet to find a store with a floor model that I can hold before buying. The fact that the Priv is still on Android Lollipop (though a beta for Marshmallow recently became available) undermines its entire security advantage. Over time, I'm sure BlackBerry will improve the Priv and make the secure version of Android as good as BB10, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions.
BlackBerry CEO John Chen has repeatedly said the company may exit the smartphone business altogether. Even if BlackBerry abandons the Priv and secure Android, the company will still be around, so at least I won't have to give up the BlackBerry Messenger (now available on Android!).
Breaking up before true gloom sets in may be cleaner and less stressful, but this is a dysfunctional relationship. I will stick it out till the bitter end.