It’s been a horrible couple of years for RIM. Job losses, open revolt from staff, service outages, poor software and hardware reviews. Something had to give and a change of leadership was inevitable. Even after Thorsten Heins took up the reins the obituaries kept on coming thick and fast. We weren’t alone in asking whether RIM should have adopted Android, but the company set its sights on a new platform and promised that this time it would not be rushed.
We think that the depth and breadth of Android device offerings is one of the key reasons for the platform’s success. If you cast your mind back a few months you might remember RIM making noises about licensing BlackBerry 10 to manufacturers and there were follow up rumors about HTC and Samsung, but no actual bites. The fact that BB10 launched yesterday without a single partner for hardware doesn’t bode well for BlackBerry’s licensing plans. Even with lawsuits and licensing deals from Apple and Microsoft, Android is still competitively cheap for manufacturers to license.
That leaves BlackBerry’s own Z10, with the physical keyboard-toting Q10 to follow in a couple of months’ time. When we compare the Z10 versus the best of Android it is clearly not on the cutting edge. Put it this way – if an Android manufacturer released the same Z10 hardware specs as a new flagship Android smartphone it wouldn’t be making many headlines.
If the Z10 was significantly cheaper then we could reevaluate that assessment, but UK pricing, both on contract and unlocked, is in line with the Samsung Galaxy S3 and not far off the iPhone 5. It looks expensive for what it is. Presumably the Q10 will be a much cheaper alternative.
BlackBerry was able to highlight the high number of launch apps, unprecedented for a new platform, at over 70,000. That’s an impressive number, but how many were rapidly ported from Android in two weekend port-a-thon events leading up to yesterday’s launch? The answer is around 40 percent. Of course the real problem is not that BB10 has one tenth the number of apps that Android has, or that the majority of them are ports, the real problem is what’s missing.
Fans of Google services and apps, common around these parts, are going to be horrified and completely disenchanted with the lack of dedicated apps for BlackBerry 10. If you’ve already invested in Google’s cloud services or you’re a daily user of Google Maps then BB10 will not be tempting you away from Android. There are also a variety of high profile apps from Netflix to Spotify that have not been confirmed for BB10 and they’ll be deal breakers for heavy users.
If you can’t answer that question then why would you ever consider switching from Android to BlackBerry? There are some nifty baked-in features with BB10 and it looks smooth and accessible, but it’s tough to put your finger on anything that Android can’t do, especially if you include the additional features that apps bring.
There’s still some value in some of BB10’s best features as native rather than through third-party apps and services. Maybe the unified inbox can be emulated with Gmail to an extent and you can install an alternative keyboard app to improve the typing experience, but there is one area where BlackBerry 10 is liable to score a win and that’s the enterprise. When it comes to secure server connections and corporate email the BlackBerry wins out of the box. The ability to switch between work and personal profiles is also going attract anyone who currently carries two phones around with them.
Is that enough though? We always knew BlackBerry’s base was enterprise users and there are valuable contracts to be had in that space, but it’s not the mass market. For consumers Android has a lot more to offer.
We’ve seen BlackBerry users defecting to the iPhone and Android in their droves over the last couple of years. New customers in emerging markets and heavily discounted deals in older markets may have bolstered BlackBerry’s subscriber numbers, but in the desirability stakes the BlackBerry scores low. You know you’re in trouble when the New York Times runs a piece like this one about BlackBerry owners being ashamed of their phones.
BlackBerry 10 should change that. It won’t be embarrassing to pull a BlackBerry out of your pocket anymore. For fans of the brand it provides an excuse to come back to the fold and it’s a no-brainer for the enterprise, but that won’t be enough to make it a big success. We can see it beating Windows Phone 8 to a distant third place behind Android and iOS, despite Microsoft’s superior marketing muscle. It’s just tough to imagine it stealing away market share from either of the big two.
Whatever happens the people at BlackBerry have given it their best shot. The rebranding to drop RIM is a good move, the platform looks slick and it offers some subtle differentiators, they secured as many big name apps as they could, they didn’t forget their enterprise base, and they produced some nice-looking hardware. It should be enough to reverse the decline and secure a niche in the smartphone market.
The initial reaction from the tech industry could be summed up in one word “underwhelmed” and the value of RIM shares is tumbling again, so BB10 obviously didn’t excite investors. Let’s not kid ourselves, with the Xperia Z hitting stores soon and two new Android flagships on the horizon from HTC and Samsung, BlackBerry 10 is not going to compete with Android.