RIM today hosted a major event in New York to launch the new BlackBerry 10 OS. RIM also announced that the company is rebranding itself as BlackBerry. A fresh new brand with a highly anticipated mobile platform should give the company reason for optimism, but BlackBerry 10 (BB10) isn’t just a new iteration of the once-dominant smartphone brand—it’s a sink-or-swim proposition that will determine the fate of the company itself.
BB 10 has been delayed time and time again. You can’t fault a company for being dedicated to getting it right—BlackBerry deserves kudos for having the conviction to make sure BB10 is polished and delivers the experience intended, despite the fallout and negative impact of delaying the launch.
While we’ve waited to see what’s next from BlackBerry, though, its market share has plummeted. BlackBerry has dropped from the leading smartphone platform, to battle with Microsoft’s Windows Phone for a distant third place—fighting over the few table scraps left over from iOS and Android.
Restoring faith in the brand and winning back customers won’t be easy. Here are three primary challenges the new BlackBerry must overcome in order to make BlackBerry formidable once again.
The game changed. Smartphones are all about the apps. Granted, the vast majority of the umpteen thousand apps available for iOS or Android are crap. They’re silly, lame, dysfunctional, and have no real redeeming value. But, there are still exponentially more business apps, social media apps, and apps that enhance smartphone productivity available for iOS and Android than there are for BlackBerry.
For example, at the Kaspersky Cyber-Security Summit 2013 event Wednesday, former White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt said he has 500 or 600 hundred apps on his iPad, but most are frivolous distractions. Schmidt explained that the challenge for mobile devices is to answer the question, “How are we going to take all of these new technologies and figure out how to actually use them?”
BlackBerry has been offering a bounty to entice developers to create for the BlackBerry ecosystem, and that has helped to build the stable of apps. The test, though, is whether innovative new apps are developed for BlackBerry first—or how long BlackBerry users have to wait, if they get them at all. BlackBerry has to convince developers that BlackBerry is a viable market worth investing time and effort in, and that’s not easy without market share.
Success begets success, and failure begets failure. The more people who have iPhones or Android smartphones, the more friends, family, and random strangers are able to see them, play with them, and experience them. The popularity of any platform or device reaches a critical mass that becomes more or less self-sustaining.
However, inertia can be overcome. BlackBerry once held the dominant position, and that inertia was on its side. RIM allowed inertia to become stagnation and enabled rival platforms like iOS and Android to claim the advantage.
The jury is still out on how BlackBerry 10 will do in the market, but the initial reception seems a bit tepid, and a CNET poll found that only one in eight will even consider switching to a BB10 device. That doesn’t bode well for getting inertia on BlackBerry’s side.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing BlackBerry is the cultural shift in corporate America. Much of the success of BlackBerry is a result of corporations and government agencies choosing the platform and issuing RIM devices to employees. The entrenched BlackBerry infrastructure in the business world is one of the main reasons the company hasn’t already faded completely into oblivion.
Then consumerization happened. The days of IT dictating one-size-fits-all technology choices are gone in most organizations. Many companies now allow users to select the platform they prefer, or have simply adopted BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies that let users connect their personal smartphones to company email and network resources.
The BlackBerry brand was built using momentum from corporate America to trickle into the hands of consumers. It’s never been a major hit as a consumer brand, though. In a world where everything is reversed, and the success of the brand with consumers will drive whether or not it’s accepted by companies, BlackBerry faces a daunting task: Convince consumers to choose BB10.
The fact that it is still hanging on and is still part of the smartphone discussion at all is a testament to the strength of the BlackBerry brand. It’s possible to restore credibility and rebuild market share, but it won’t be easy.
Only time will tell whether or not BlackBerry 10 can live up to expectations and turn things around for the BlackBerry brand.
Tony is principal analyst with the Bradley Strategy Group, providing analysis and insight on tech trends. He is a prolific writer on a range of technology topics, has authored a number of books, and is a frequent speaker at industry events.