So, after months – or possibly years – of anticipation, RIM has finally unveiled its first BlackBerry 10 devices, the Z10 and Q10.
And very good they look, too. The company has clearly spent a lot of time polishing what is a very slick UI, which is not only a massive leap from the BlackBerry of old, but also looks set to be a very capable rival to iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8.
Now, with devices set to reach the market, only one issue remains, and that is one that is largely beyond the control of RIM. Will customers buy BlackBerry 10 devices?
Thorsten Heins, CEO of the company, today admitted that while the launch is a significant milestone for his company, “it’s the starting line” in real terms.
Behind the scenes, RIM – or BlackBerry, as it will soon be known – has done a lot of heavy-lifting to bring its new products to market. Heins previously attributed delays to the need for the proposition to be fully polished at launch, and at first glance the company does appear to have achieved this.
It has invested heavily in its BB10 app portfolio, working hard to woo developers even before the first devices reach the market. It launches with 70,000 apps, which while hardly likely to keep Apple or Google awake at night, will be enough for all but the most demanding consumers – and importantly, includes a significant chunk of the most popular titles.
With the new-look BlackBerry World, it also has a content proposition that is closer to Apple’s App Store/iTunes and Google Play, providing access to a range of music and video content – subject to regional variations, of course.
But all of this – strong OS, attractive hardware, broad apps portfolio, rounded content proposition – are table stakes in the smartphone market of today. Not differentiators, but expensive and costly elements which have to be in place to stand a chance in the market – but which themselves are no guarantee of success.
Since Apple and Google transformed the smartphone market with their complete content propositions, only one tier-one player has looked to take them on: Microsoft with Windows Phone. And Microsoft has pulled no punches in this battle: it clearly sees the importance of mobile to its future success.
But, using Windows Phone as a comparison, clearly RIM is still facing an uphill battle in actually luring customers away from Android or iOS – and in keeping its existing customers loyal come upgrade time.
While the Microsoft OS itself has been praised, and the hardware running it is none too shabby – with tier-one smartphone vendors Nokia, Samsung and HTC on board – it has yet to become more than a blip on the smartphone radar.
Certainly, there are some signs that Windows Phone is starting to gain some traction, but so far it is only in some markets, and not on the global scale that a company like Microsoft (or Nokia, or HTC, or Samsung) would be looking for.
And this comes after two significant platform updates, a massive developer push, and multi-million dollar payments to Nokia to support its adoption of the platform. Success in the smartphone market does not come cheap.
Back at RIM, Heins certainly deserves some credit for steering RIM effectively through its transition from an operational standpoint. BlackBerry service subscriber numbers have been stable – even if this has been underpinned by a shift from high-value enterprise customers to consumers in emerging markets – and its financials have been well managed.
But the introduction of BlackBerry 10 also sees RIM moving away from the model where it has received service revenue from its subscribers. With this extra income, the company has been well positioned to ride-out some of the issues during its transition period, it being a billion dollar business it its own right.
With the “BlackBerry service” element removed from the proposition, not only has RIM lost income, but it is also stripping out one of its key differentiators. Despite some high-profile problems, the BlackBerry data network has by-and-large been fantastically robust and reliable – but no more is this the company’s USP.
Of course, the BlackBerry brand still counts for something, even if it is somewhat tarnished.
I know of a number of colleagues who are looking for a reliable device with a good battery life that can cross the work/life boundary more effectively than many existing, consumer-first smartphones. While “bring your own device” may have played a role in RIM’s earlier downfall, if the company plays its cards right it could also play a role in its resurgence among “power” users.
But the key issue is that on the street, the company is competing with Apple, Samsung, Nokia, LG Electronics, Sony and Motorola – and many, many, others – which either have a strong brand or heavy corporate support (or both). RIM is in the same boat as HTC, a company that has had well-documented struggles, in that while being focused on the lucrative smartphone sector, they do not have the deep pockets that their rivals do.
At first glance – and with RIM having demoed various BB10 features previously – the company has created an impressive hardware, software and content proposition. But this alone is not enough to guarantee success in a cutthroat business.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members