In anticipation of today’s hyped press announcement around the new BlackBerry 10, the pundits are out in full force providing everything from trading options to cash in on the media coverage to Woodstock-esque love-in swooning around the new life of the embattled mobile technology pioneer.
I made the switch years ago. RIM’s uber-secretive culture, combined with a heady “we know more than everyone in the market” attitude came out loud and clear as internal battles over power, product road map direction, and financial management manifested in increasing low-bar (and frankly boring) technology upgrades. Unless you are in government or large corporations where the BlackBerry secured messaging platform has held somewhat firm over the years, you also made the switch to iPhone, Windows, or Android a long time ago as well. It was a bit like dating the person from your home town who never wanted to grow up and discover the world. After a while you just don’t have much in common anymore.
If you have been a stalwart BlackBerry private customer or enterprise business customer, likely today’s announcement will be a joyous occasion. BlackBerry 10 is not only a new device suite for its mobile phones and tablets, more importantly its the first major update in the BlackBerry OS in years. As Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was quoted this week after quarterly earnings report, it may be a case of “we’ve been down so low, it feels like up.” RIM has seen sales plummet over the past several years, and could get some of that emotional bounce today.
If you are one of those BlackBerry private users, particularly in North America, these days you are more like a cult. With less than 2% of market share in North America, even a surge in new unit conversions will do little to move the needle in RIM’s direction. Some lofty projections of over 100M new units on the phone platform - which would certainly give RIM the No. 4 spot behind Apple, Google, and Microsoft – are encouraging. However at this stage of the game it may be more of a play to “get whole” before an eventual sale of the company (whispers include Lenovo and Dell as possible suitors).
For me, the new OS features, particularly around the App World are nice, but not game-changing. Yes you have better visuals around your apps and insight into what is trending, much like the Apple App Store. But frankly the new smart look and feel is not enough and it isn’t anything new to the market. For we former Blackberry converts, RIM would need to show us something REALLY big to get our personal mobile dollars going back to Waterloo, Ontario. Something akin to showing the Princess Leia holographic image sent to Obiwan Kenobi in Star Wars. Or channeling Tu Pac in similar fashion using the likes of 3-D Facetime.
While there will certainly be an uptick from consumer pent-up demand that will provide early positive signs, this story will be written in six months after the sales plateau hits. At that point, assuming no response from the three other major players, RIM may get a key to the club locker room. Otherwise RIM’s core enterprise messaging platform would be a very strategic asset for one of the other major three players to acquire or provide an in-road for an outsider to join the fray and provide long-term product stewardship.