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How a QWERTY Windows Phone handset could usurp BlackBerry

I've talked to three apologetic BlackBerry users in the past week. These are all serious business people, getting serious work done, and they all had the same message.

"I hate this horrid old thing, but I just need the keyboard."

It's positively shocking that with Windows Phone 8 (officially launched yesterday), Microsoft is not offering an option for the cadre of dissatisfied BlackBerry owners (and their IT departments.) Microsoft has several months (maybe a bit longer) before BlackBerry 10 comes out, to pry the remaining RIM-dependent businesses away from their BlackBerry servers. It's got the software, but it lacks the hardware. So does Apple.

Where are the keyboards?

I'm talking about truly great QWERTY keyboards on smartphones. Not membranous, half-usable things. Not inconvenient slide-outs. I'm talking about the kind of keyboard you use when your salary depends on it.

You don't see that on HTC's Windows phones. You don't see it on the Nokia Lumias. You don't see it on the Samsung Ah-Teev. You've seen good keyboards on some decent Android phones, but Android is a tough sell to many businesses because it doesn't have a clear security and manageability story.

Ironically, Windows Phone has had a great keyboard in the past: the little-known but much-lamented Dell Venue Pro. Dell was probably the world's most incompetent major smartphone company, and has failed to successfully sell anything handheld for years, but you have to give it credit for two things. Firstly, the Venue Pro was a truly attractive, serious portrait-slider Windows Phone with a great keyboard that it couldn't sell to carriers because nobody trusted Dell's quality assurance. The other thing: Dell created a "phablet" long before the Samsung Galaxy Note with the Dell Streak 5, but saddled it with disastrous software.

The last time I talked seriously with an OEM about keyboards was about a year ago, when a major smartphone OEM said that people just don't want them. Apparently, everybody's moving to touch keyboards now. That's just transparently untrue: A minority of people want QWERTY, and much of that minority are big spending business folk who could create a lasting market for a platform.

This is very specifically an opportunity for Microsoft. Google's commitment to "openness" has let a thousand manageability and security solutions bloom, but that's a thorny road of winding paths for most IT departments. Apple cares not for keyboards. But Microsoft will be selling Windows Phone 8 specifically as a companion to Windows 8 in the enterprise, with all of the EAS and policies and BitLocker that implies.

Serious people could use Windows Phone 8 to do serious things. But many of those serious people don't want to fumble along with autocorrect on Windows Phone's somewhat accident-prone touch keyboard.

So here's my request: A Windows Phone successor to the Nokia E72. Thinking about the extant Windows Phone OEMs, HTC has produced some good slide-out keyboards, but nothing in the slab-style form factor these quick-hit business users crave. (A deal's closing – no time to slide my phone!)

Samsung does a wide range of mediocre keyboards. However, Nokia has produced two of the best slab QWERTY efforts in history, the E71 and E72. For a few years, those models ruled European business. A Nokia Lumia Pro could do so again. How about it?