BlackBerry gambles on new OS and devices to reverse ailing fortunes

By Chris Lee

Beleaguered smartphone brand BlackBerry has seen its former dominance diminish in recent years to its current position of just four per cent of the smartphone market. A failure to keep up with arch rivals Apple, Samsung and HTC as well some high-profile PR disasters have attributed to its demise, but the company has launched its BlackBerry 10 OS and Z10 and Q10 handsets which it hopes will project the company back into the fore. But is it too late to save the brand?

BlackBerry’s CEO Thorsten Heins promised “an entirely new mobile experience” at the 30 January launch of BlackBerry 10. The onus is on multitasking, productivity and connectivity, with BlackBerry offering users a choice of all-touch screen in the Z10 or a combination of touch and physical keyboard in the Q10.

Increased choice, increased competition

According to Jason Yeomans, managing director of mobile managed services provider PMGC Technology Group, the new BlackBerrys will inject more consumer choice into a competitive marketplace. For business use, however, some questions remain.

“What hasn’t been explained is how existing customers migrate their BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) from current to BlackBerry 10 or if they can run a hybrid of some new/some old OS devices,” he told NMK. “It’s also unrealistic for handset manufacturers to continue to think they can create new, more advanced devices that cost the same as a PC or laptop and then expect the mobile networks, or the providers to fund these gratis. These devices are more powerful than many PCs still in operation and careful planning has to be given to how organisations will fund the purchase of these. Personally I think it’s time for smartphones to be accepted as IT hardware and funded accordingly.”

Most consumers “won’t consider” buying BlackBerry

A survey from VoucherCodes.co.uk in response to the launch revealed that BlackBerry may have too much ground to make up with more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of smartphone users stating that they would not consider buying a BlackBerry.

Nearly half (42 per cent) claimed they didn’t believe BlackBerry made user-friendly phones, almost a third (31 per cent) said they did not consider them to be good value for money and more than a quarter (26 per cent) simply felt BlackBerry was no longer a desirable brand.

Duncan Jennings, co-founder of VoucherCodes.co.uk, said: “Today’s consumers have so much more choice when it comes to buying smartphones compared to when the first BlackBerry launched back in 2003. Unfortunately for RIM, our research shows their customers are hanging up their BlackBerrys in favour of better value handsets and phones designed for social networking.”

Technology writer and journalist Gordon Kelly agrees. He believes the horse may already have bolted for BlackBerry.

“BlackBerry 10 is a hard sell. Like Symbian before it once a platform is deemed to be on the wane it is almost impossible to get customers back,” he warned. “In pure product terms BB10 is commendable, but today’s multi-billion dollar smartphone industry is ruled by giants with far deeper pockets than BlackBerry. I think the only way it might gain traction is to license the platform to sizeable third party handset makers like Samsung, ZTE and HTC who may wish to reduce their dependency on Android and harvest some of BlackBerry’s remaining infrastructure in business. But it’s a long shot.”

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