Research in Motion — now renamed BlackBerry — launched the latest BlackBerry devices — the BlackBerry Z10 (touchscreen) and the BlackBerry Q10 (physical keyboard) — running on the new platform BlackBerry 10. After several months of delays, the device is finally out. After using the touchscreen BlackBerry Z10 for a few days, my first impressions of the device are extremely good.
The new user interface has been radically improved and it now matches the experience on Android and iOS devices. Indeed the swipe between applications provides a much more advanced experience than in any other smartphone, particularly for heavy app and email users. The new keyboard is the jewel in the crown and RIM has mastered the experience.
The browser, one of the weakest features on the old BlackBerry devices, is now an enjoyable experience. Lastly on the applications side, the company has developed tools for developers to migrate their applications from other platforms to the new BlackBerry World. This is not a new BlackBerry device; this is a completely new BlackBerry experience. For the first time the traditional keyboard BlackBerry users will find easier to type on a touchscreen.
The company has been through a tough couple of years, and the transition to the new BlackBerry 10 platform based on QNX has been difficult. The company’s market share dove from 14% in 1Q11 to 4% in the last quarter of 2012. The consumer segment was the most impacted as users moved away to the latest and greatest shiny Android devices from Samsung and the new iPhones. The lack of applications and the BlackBerry World cumbersome experience didn’t help either.
This is the D-Day for Research in Motion. The company has no other major options; if it doesn’t succeed with the new platform, there are no alternatives on the hardware or software sides. The future will then be dependent on a new corporate strategy, from strategic alliances to licensing, and so on.
While other companies have the option to adopt a new operating system, for BlackBerry that is not possible. The time and investment required to migrate the entire services to a new and unproven OS would make the task almost impossible. For BlackBerry there is no plan B available.
Despite losing a significant percentage of clients, I believe the enterprise segment continues to be the sweet spot for the company. Those companies running on BlackBerry servers (BES) and with thousands of users cannot simply throw the entire infrastructure away and buy a new one; and they don’t want to. BlackBerry continues to offer very critical services that no other company has been able to match.
Device management, IT policies, security, and so on are crucial for any IT department. As an example, the new BlackBerry 10 devices support a new service called BlackBerry Balance. This allows IT departments to set personal and corporate environments in the devices. Employees using a BlackBerry handset cannot transfer information from the corporate environment to the personal, which provides a secure and controlled management of corporate information.
On the consumer side, the story is different. The new devices will find a tough challenge to compete with the latest Android handsets at much lower price points. In the UK, for instance, BlackBerry devices became very popular among teenagers looking for a cheap prepaid handset that allows them to connect with their friends through BBM.
Although these users have been moving to other applications, such as WhatsApp, that run across platforms. Most consumers that have moved already are now tied to contracts and will not replace their devices until the end of those contracts.
IDC estimates that BlackBerry will continue to be a major player in the enterprise segment, but a smaller player in the overall smartphone market with a market share of around 5%. This may change if the company rapidly expands its portfolio to significantly lower price points. In the meantime the challenge is even tougher — how to convince a consumer to buy an older BlackBerry device when a new and completely different one has been launched?
This will have a negative impact on BlackBerry’s results until the mid-range devices become available later this year or in 2014. BlackBerry has disrupted itself with a completely new and appealing experience; the challenge will now be to convince thousands of companies to quickly upgrade their servers to the BlackBerry 10 servers so they can support the new devices.