You are here
BlackBerry hangs on with BB10 launch
With the official announcement of BlackBerry 10, beleaguered smartphone maker Research In Motion (RIM) has signalled its intention to win back users.
The company has rebranded itself after its iconic smartphone. Now, armed with its new operating system, it finally joins the modern mobile market with a compelling feature set and solid devices. But a lukewarm response from investors and stiff competition from entrenched leaders Apple and Samsung point to the uphill struggle ahead.
BlackBerry is gambling that its new OS and its traditional business appeal will be enough to at least clear the path on its comeback trail.
The road to here
When RIM launched its first BlackBerry back in 1999 it gave busy executives a way to stay in touch with their clients and their offices. The Canadian company quickly cornered the market for secure corporate e-mail. It also became a status symbol for movers and shakers, and those who fancied themselves as such. RIM evolved, finding favour among a younger market with its BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service. BBM was a huge hit, particularly in emerging markets, offering free direct messaging between BlackBerry devices.
But BlackBerry’s glow faded as competition rose and as RIM made several missteps. They underestimated the seed shift in users’ needs and expectations and were slow to respond as rivals produced better, more intuitive devices and software that blurred the line between business and pleasure.
In four short years BlackBerry has been relegated to a minor player in the global smartphone market. It’s 3.4 per cent global showing in the fourth quarter is down from 20 per cent only three years ago. RIM share price has followed the company’s market share. The stock is down 90 per cent from its 2008 peak.
The smartphone market has changed. Individuals, not companies, are buying the majority of smartphones sold today. And in the fickle consumer market, BlackBerry devices are no longer cool.
Revitalising interest with new features
It is against this backdrop that the company is pinning its hope that BlackBerry 10 and a slate of new devices can spark a turnaround of fortune.
Is Blackberry 10 good enough to keep BlackBerry’s 79 million existing users from leaving the fold or to lure Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS users?
The company has a tough mountain to climb. However, its lateness to join the modern smartphone fray can work to its advantage. BlackBerry 10 addresses many of the limitations of its previous offerings. It presents a radical new user interface and innovative features that show the benefit of hindsight.
A new Hub feature collates and displays e-mails, text messages, social network updates and other notifications. BlackBerry Flow allows for switching between tasks with single figure gestures. The new BlackBerry OS also boasts a faster browser, better camera features, and video chat support for BBM over a 3G network.
In addition to improved support for swiping gestures, a revamped on-screen keyboard continually learns as a user types, offering word suggestions and auto corrections. However, the company will not abandon its many fans of the physical keyboard that once defined BlackBerry handsets. The BlackBerry Q10, scheduled to launch globally in April, will feature a physical QWERTY keyboard and high-end specifications.
Also in its favour is the sizeable BB10 mobile application catalog in its rechristened BlackBerry World app store. BlackBerry World launched with 70,000 apps and the company expects the number will soon pop-up to 100,000. According to BlackBerry vice president, Martyn Mallick, 40 per cent of the apps at launch are, in fact, tweaked Android apps.
According to Mallick, BlackBerry has teams in each country for identifying and acquiring popular app developers to write mobile apps for the BlackBerry platform.
Gaining wide developer support is important for the company to secure the mobile apps needed to win back users who left for the greener app pastures of iOS and Android platform.
Winning over corporate IT is another important goal. BlackBerry intends to recapture the Enterprise Mobility Management market it helped define with BlackBerry Balance. This Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) friendly feature allows IT departments to separate apps and data in the work space from personal items such as music and photos on the phone. For example, security conscious IT managers can prevent a user from copying data from a sensitive company document in the work space and pasting it into a file in the personal space.
BlackBerry 10 also gives the flexibility of connectivity to its BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) and BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) only if needed. This means a new Blackberry 10 device will not require the purchase of a special provisioned BIS plan.
Only time will tell
For all its promise, the new platform is not without issues. BB10 is such a fundamental shift from previous versions of the BlackBerry OS that it can be considered a version one release. Still, it is miles ahead of what the first versions of iOS and Android offered. But its rivals have not stood still. Blackberry has to compete with and attract users from more mature rival platforms with much larger mobile app libraries.
Blackberry must win developers, carriers and, most importantly, customers. It must fight to regain a foothold amongst increasingly sophisticated and discerning consumers. It must also battle to make up ground it ceded in enterprises that have moved on to other means of managing and securing mobile devices.
Adam Leach, principal analyst at mobile research firm Ovum, summed it up well, saying, “The BlackBerry 10 platform offers a differentiated user experience in today’s crowded and homogenous smartphone market. The BlackBerry Z10 and Q10 will stand out from the Android masses and look distinct from Apple’s iPhone.
The user experience of BlackBerry 10 introduces some nice new features, but importantly builds on BlackBerry’s UI heritage and will certainly appeal to existing BlackBerry users. However, the challenge for the company will be to attract new users and those that have already moved to alternative smartphones.”
In RIM’s words, BlackBerry has been “Re-designed. Re-engineered. Re-invented.”
Only time will tell if BlackBerry 10 signals the moment of BlackBerry’s resurrection as a global force, or if we are experiencing the last BlackBerry launch of consequence.
Bevil Wooding is the chief knowledge officer at Congress WBN and the founder and executive director of BrightPath Foundation where he designs and implements education technology solutions for schools .
Follow on Twitter: @bevilwooding and Facebook: facebook.com/bevilwooding or e-mail: [email protected]
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.