Blackberry held simultaneous launch events in their home town of Toronto as well as New York, London, Delhi, Dubai, Johannesburg, Jakarta, and possibly elsewhere (Paris?) this morning to celebrate the release of their very-long awaited and drastically overdue new smartphones and associated underlying operating system.
Interestingly, although it made a big thing out of the multiple simultaneous launch events, and with the lead launch event being New York (this because of the in-person presence of Thorsten Heins, their CEO, at the New York event) the phones themselves are being launched slowly and successively around the world, with the US being last on the list of major markets to see the new phones. This is a reversal of Apple’s strategy, which has the US always first.
We are told that releasing in the US last isn’t Blackberry’s fault. Oh no, Blackberry blames the nasty US wireless companies, who are taking longer to certify the phones than every other wireless company in the world. If that is so, one wonders how it is that Apple and other phone manufacturers haven’t had the same problem.
The phone goes on sale in the UK tomorrow (31 Jan). Blackberry’s home country of Canada has to wait until 5 February, UAE on 10 Feb, and Venezuela will be the first South American country to get the units, with most of South America having them by the time the US finally gets the new phone in ‘mid March’.
On the other hand, do we really care when – or even if – the two new Blackberry phones finally become available in the US? Alas, the answer seems to be, in large part, ‘No, we don’t care’.
Blackberry released two models – an all touch-screen Z10 that looks extremely similar to most other modern touch screen phones, and a keyboard endowed Q10. The Q10 is not expected in the US until maybe some time in April, even later than the Z10’s ‘mid March’ release.
Don’t get me wrong. The new touch-screen model, the Z10, has some great features. It has a removable battery, which is probably just as well, because its battery life is testing to be three hours shorter than an iPhone 5 (ie just over 8 hours compared to more than 11 with the latest iPhone). It has a micro-SD card slot, which is again probably just as well because internal storage capacity is only 16GB. It has a standard micro-USB connector, the same as most other phones except for Apple, and it also has a micro-HDMI port as well, in case you want to play video from your phone through your television.
The Z10 has all the usual sensors and things such as GPS, accelerometer, and magnetometer, and unlike the iPhone, has an RFID/NFC capability, and unlike the Nexus 4, supports LTE as well as HSPA+ for fast mobile data connectivity. Although is supports high-speed data and all four main Wi-Fi types (a/b/g/n) it tests as loading web pages about twice as slowly as the iPhone or a modern Samsung phone. It has a nice medium-sized 4.2″ screen with 1280×768 pixels on it (compared to 1136 x 640 on the iPhone).
It is slightly taller, wider and thicker than an iPhone 5, and weighs almost five ounces, still very light indeed although an ounce heavier than the iPhone 5.
The Z10 is also fairly priced, and expected to be sold for $199 on a two-year contract, and when it finally comes out, it will be available from all four US carriers, with slightly varying combinations of phone frequency bands to reflect the ever-more complex range of different frequency bands used by different wireless companies around the world.
So, from a hardware point of view, the phone seems to be reasonably free of important negatives, although it doesn’t have any stand-out positive features either. It is a reasonably good all-rounder.
As for the Q10, not all details are yet known for sure about this, but it seems to be extremely similar to the earlier keyboard equipped phones that Blackberry used to sell, albeit now with the new operating system. It has a 3.1″ 720×720 pixel touch screen as well as the Blackberry keyboard, which is slightly redesigned to be straighter rather than curved.
Lots of Hype, But Little Truly Exciting
Which brings us to the enabling side of the phone – its software.
Like the hardware it runs on, the new BB10 OS can perhaps be simplistically described as neither particularly bad nor particularly good. Sure, the launch event was rich on hype, but sadly was much lighter on substance. Among other offensively vacuous empty phrases was the statement that the new Blackberry’s are intended for people who are ‘hyper-connected socially’ – is that the new way of saying they are for Crackberry addicts who are unable to enjoy any type of event or activity without compulsively checking their phone for messages every three minutes? If so, it will hardly be a badge of honor to be spotted with a new Blackberry device.
Also offered was the concept of ‘Blackberry Balance’. What is that, you might wonder? Sorry, I’ve no idea, but it might refer to an ability to have two profiles on the phone – a work profile and a home profile. Big deal or no deal? We say, more the latter, preferring Android 4.2’s ability to have multiple user profiles (one or more for you, one for your spouse/partner, and a couple for the kids, and another for any guests you lend the phone to, for example).
Another example of sacrificing good solid sense for empty image was the announcement of Blackberry’s new ‘Global Creativity Director’. Now it is very true that Blackberry has been sorely lacking in creativity for the last few years, and indeed today’s release failed to show any significant return of creativity. So who is the person being appointed to this vital position? Alicia Keys. The woman is a singer and B level actor. It is unclear exactly what her role will be or how she will contribute creativity to Blackberry’s ongoing desperate efforts to re-invent herself, and about the kindest thing that can be said is that, ahem, Blackberry displayed a huge amount of creativity in selecting her for this position.
Although Blackberry had arranged for many apps that currently run on Android to be ported over to their BB10 OS, it seems that many important and popular apps have yet to appear. We are referring to apps such as a Kindle eReader app, or Skype, or Netflix, to name just three that immediately stand out as absent. Some of the native apps (particularly the mapping app) seem limited in functionality too.
This is not surprising, being as how BB10 is actually the first release of a brand new operating system rather than – as the name would seem to imply – the tenth evolution of a pre-existing operating system. It wouldn’t be a problem if it was competing against iOS 1.0 and Android 1.0, but its two competing OSes are way ahead in terms of polish and sophistication, both for the operating system itself and the apps that make use of it.
The Blackberry Blackberry
Interestingly, one of the announcements was that the parent company – Research in Motion, aka RIM, is renaming itself as Blackberry. Good idea or bad idea? We say the latter. The torpid lack of development at Blackberry over the last few years has seen the name ‘Blackberry’ decline from formerly meaning ‘state of the art, progress, capable, sophisticated’ to now meaning ‘out of date, lacking in features, unsophisticated, unappealing’. People who used to be proud to be able to show off their Blackberry are now saying they feel embarrassed to be seen with one.
If the company really wanted to get it right with rebranding, it should have renamed the phones from Blackberry to, oh, maybe Raspberry instead, so as to free itself from a brand name that increasingly means undesirable and oldfashioned rather than state of the art, sizzling and sexy. And no-one has ever really cared that the company making the Blackberry is called RIM. Why even bother renaming the shadowy parent company in the background, and then tie the company more closely to the Blackberry name, no matter what future devices it might subsequently release? Has Apple thought about renaming itself iPhone? Does Microsoft entertain the concept of renaming itself Windows? Do we now refer to ‘the Blackberry Blackberry’ when we are also referring to ‘the Apple iPhone’ and ‘the Samsung Galaxy S3’?
Does this also mean that their disastrous Playbook tablet will be renamed a Blackberry tablet, too? That would sure depress the brand value still further!
Oh yes – what is happening to the Playbook? Screams of silence and some ambiguous non-statements were all that was said about the Playbook.
Although there was some hype in the release event, in the Question and Answer section that followed the formal launch, Frank Boulben, CMO for the Blackberry Blackberry, said their target was to become the third largest phone ecosystem. No-one can accuse them of setting overly ambitious objectives by seeking merely to become the third largest phone ecosystem, which presumably would require nothing more than displacing the massive non-event that is currently Windows Phone 8.
We find it very hard to see how the new hardware and software announced today will help Blackberry win back market share from its former users who have abandoned Blackberry some time over the last four or more years. Coming up with a product almost as good as the Android or Apple device that such former users now have is not sufficient reason to get them to move back to Blackberry again. It might slow down the continued loss of more current BB users to competing platforms, but it isn’t going to start a rush of lost users returning back.
Although only two devices were announced at the launch, earlier in the month Blackberry said it planned to offer at least six different products during 2013. Maybe they will be counting different amounts of memory in the phone as different products? It is hard to see how else they could come up with such a confusion of different products, or what the sense of doing so would be.
Will the New Phones and OS Reverse Blackberry’s Decline?
So, will the new BB10 OS, the two new phone models, and renaming the company be sufficient to allow Blackberry to stop its decline and actually start to grow market share again?
We do not feel that the products announced today will work miracles for Blackberry, and as evidence of this, we point to the latest just-now-released global market share statistics for smartphones. Android had a 70.1% share of smartphone shipments in the fourth quarter of 2012, and Apple had a 22.0% share, leaving a tiny 7.9% share for everything else. Blackberry claimed a 3.4% share globally, and even less – only 2% – in the US. The balance of 4.5% was shared between Microsoft Windows Phone 7.5, 7.8 and 8.0 phones, and all the Nokia Symbian and other OS phones too.
This compares with the fourth quarter of 2011 when ‘other’ devices had a 25.1% market share. It seems the smartphone world is crushingly becoming a two-OS duopoly, and if the huge combined marketing resources and market presence of Microsoft and Nokia can’t turn that around and fight successfully for a significant third place, what chance does the ever-smaller and financially weaker Blackberry have to score a measurable fourth, let along to displace Microsoft/Nokia and become third?
Furthermore, it seems that Blackberry is pretty much giving up on its Playbook, meaning that it doesn’t have a broader ‘ecosystem’ of phone, tablet, and other computing devices too. It just has phones. What are the chances people will buy their Android or iOS (or even Windows) tablet, but then choose a one-off Blackberry type phone instead of a matching phone with the same operating system design as their tablet? This is probably Blackberry’s greatest strategic weakness going forward.
Blackberry’s shares rose prior to the launch event, then fell 17% from their levels prior to the launch announcements during the rest of the day. Clearly the market was also unimpressed.
Should You Buy a New Blackberry
The new hardware and software are ‘me too’ products that are variously almost as good or equally as good as their competitors, but in no clear and obvious way any better.
The new BB10 user interface seems to be significantly different from the earlier BB7 interface, so there’s no particular ease of upgrading, for users, if they stay within the Blackberry family. It would be as easy to transition to a new iOS or Android device as to a new BB10 device.
We think that some segment of the market will remain loyal to Blackberry, and you’ll know if that is you or not. If you are a loyal BB user, then at least you’re not now having to sacrifice as much to stay with Blackberry as you have had to for the last few years.
What if you want to buy a tablet, too (and doesn’t everyone!)? Why would you now buy a Blackberry Blackberry but an Apple iPad or a Google Nexus tablet? That just doesn’t make sense.
If you already have an Apple or Android device (either phone or tablet), why would you now switch to Blackberry instead of staying within your Apple/Android family of devices and software? There’s no answer to that question, which will make it hard for Blackberry to win back market share.
You know, for sure, that there’s a certain future ahead if you choose an iOS or an Android phone. But if you choose a Blackberry, you’re taking a bit of a gamble that the company will remain a force in the market and that it will get most apps in a comparable time frame to when they are released for Android and iOS devices.
Most of all, there’s nothing in the Blackberry BB10 operating system, or its Z10 phone, to justify you taking the risks associated with choosing them.
Stay with iOS and/or Android.