As a former, loyal BlackBerry user, I was eager to see yesterday’s BB10 accouncement. Even though I abandoned the platform back in 2010, deep down, I’d really like to see them survive.
I didn’t watch the event first hand but spent time reading the reactions from the event. From that I read, the reaction that summed it up the best was – “meh”. In other words, BlackBerry did a good job updating the hardware, changing the software interface, and effectively catching up to others in the industry. On the other hand, it didn’t do anything to impress me either.
BlackBerry faces a lot of tough challenges on its road back to relevance. Here are just a few that stand out:
- Market Momentum
This isn’t a technical term, but BlackBerry needs to find a way to use yesterday’s event to turn the market in its favor. The press and general market are down on BlackBerry, and yesterday’s event didn’t change it much. I’m not sure how BlackBerry solves this challenge, but it has to find some way to get people other than their loyal fans back on board.
- Cool factor
Again, an intangible, but having a BlackBerry these days is a point of ridicule rather than pride. If I had a Blackberry five years ago, I was viewed as progressive and cool. Having a BlackBerry today labels me as old school and out of touch. BlackBerry needs to invest a lot in marketing to change this perception, and while I like Alicia Keys, hiring her as your creative director is not the answer.
- Retake the Enterprise
One point that did come across yesterday is that BlackBerry still knows Enterprise. There are some nifty features that corporate IT types should love. Unfortunately, the shift to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is irreversible. Five years ago, BlackBerry could have moved the market by selling to corporate IT departments. Today they need to target the users in order to rebuild their enterprise standing. Now that people have experienced the freedom of BYOD, I doubt they’ll want to go back.
- Rebuild loyalty
As a former loyal user, I’ve lost faith in BlackBerry. Sure, yesterday’s event felt great, but I’m not convinced that it wasn’t just a one time shot in the arm. I stayed with BlackBerry longer than I should have. I held out hope that they would upgrade their hardware and software to match what iOS and Android were bringing to the table. They let me down. Based on their track record over the last three years, do I really want to rely on them again? Not so much.
- Attract new users
Finally, if BlackBerry wants to survive, they need to bring new users into the fold. Unfortunately, BB10 doesn’t bring enough new to the table to separate it from what’s already out there. If anything, the changes in BB10 could alienate new users. It changes many standard smartphone interactions. They’ve eliminated the home button and introduced new gestures to control the device. These improvements don’t appear intuitive. This article from mainstream tech publication Mashable is one example (The First BlackBerry 10 Phone Is Exceptional but Perplexing), and the video they took below is even more telling.
I like bold approaches, but this may not have been the right time for BlackBerry to take big risks on the user experience.
Unfortunately, yesterday’s announcement, while well done and much needed, will not mark the resurgence of BlackBerry. I’m afraid that I stand by my 2013 prediction that BlackBerry does not survive and ends up an acquisition target before the end of the year. There are a number of larger technology companies, like Dell, HP and Lenovo, who need to grab a share of the smartphone market, and BlackBerry gives them a way in.
So I applaud BlackBerry for taking a stand yesterday, but for this former user, it was too little, too late.
(By the way, for a little trip down memory lane, Engadget put together an abbreviated history of the company. It’s well worth checking out. Click here to see it.)