BlackBerry got many elements of its pivotal new smartphone platform right, but not all of them. Let's break down the good and bad.
BlackBerry and its team should congratulate themselves. In 12 months, they've taken the company from near-death to a position that could lead to renewed life. Before he announced anything specific, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins thanked his predecessors, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, for getting the company as far as they did before he took over in January 2012. Don't think for a minute, however, that Balsillie and Lazaridis played a large role in bringing BlackBerry 10 to the market. It is Heins' baby, and the news Wednesday is the result of his inexhaustible enthusiasm and drive to bring the new platform and smartphones to life.
Now that we've had a few hours for the details to sink in, let's sit back and look at just what BlackBerry has done, where it has succeeded and where it has not.
We laid out BlackBerry's accomplishments earlier this week. It launched a new smartphone platform, new smartphones, new features and a new company (based on the name change and other factors).
What BlackBerry Got Right:
1. The hardware. They aren't perfect, but the Z10 and Q10 are decent smartphones. They don't have the high-quality appeal of the iPhone 5, but they're easily the nicest BlackBerrys brought to market. In particular, the fact that the company was smart enough to introduce an all-touch device and a touch+QWERTY device to bridge two different user groups shows that it is thinking about winning over new users as well as retaining its loyal fan base. These devices have enough appeal that some may think twice about picking up an Android handset or Windows Phone.
2. Carrier partners. BlackBerry has 160 carriers signed up worldwide to support BB10. That's incredible. The four major carriers in the U.S. (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless) are all on board, and even some prepaid carriers (Virgin Mobile USA) are on board, as well. BB10 will be available everywhere. That's good.
3. Content partners. BlackBerry trotted out a huge list of companies, such as music and movie studios, that will create or offer content for BB10. That's important. If there's one thing Apple and Google have proven, it is that consumers are comfortable purchasing content from their devices.
4. Enterprise Stuff. Need I say more than BlackBerry Safeguard and BlackBerry Balance? These are the tools enterprise customers need to better manage their employees' work and personal data. Together with BES 10, RIM has a strong enterprise story (just as it has historically).
Where BlackBerry Disappointed:
1. Availability. Sure, BB10 devices are hitting the U.K. and Canada this week, but the rest of the world doesn't follow for nearly a month. In fact, the Z10 won't reach U.S. carriers until mid-March, and the Q10 won't arrive until April. Heins blamed this on the time-consuming certification processes employed by U.S. carriers. The problem is, Mobile World Congress takes place before the Z10 goes on sale, where companies such as HTC, LG, ZTE, Samsung, Huawei and others are primed to debut their latest and greatest Android devices.
2. Apps. BlackBerry listed a huge number of apps that will be available at launch, many of which are today's most popular iOS and Android apps. It is launching with some 70,000 altogether. Despite the strong starting list, there are major omissions, such as Netflix, Instagram, SnapChat and so on.
3. Pricing. Pricing will vary by region, but in the U.S. it looks like the Z10 is going to cost $199 with a new contract and the Q10 is going to cost $149 with a new contract. These prices aren't too bad, but they could be more aggressive. For example, the Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC 8X, two high-end Windows Phones, sell for $99. BlackBerry should have been more aggressive with subsidies. After all, there are plenty of excellent smartphones that cost in the $49 to $149 range.
4. Fuzzy Consumer Play. Sure, BB10 will win over consumers here and there, but there's nothing compelling about BB10 to convince iOS or Android users to jump ship. Android and iOS are widely supported and have massive ecosystems that consumers can depend on. BB10 is unproven and unknown.
It is clear that BlackBerry has been working very, very hard during the last 12 months. BlackBerry 10 is a great achievement, and the Z10 and Q10 will surely have appeal when they reach the market. It's doubtful BlackBerry will win over iOS and Android users in the U.S., at least initially. It will be interesting to watch how BB10 impacts sales of Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 platform, though. Right now, that's the story to watch. Which will become the third player in the smartphone platform race: RIM or Microsoft?
At this moment, it is difficult to predict the outcome.
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