BlackBerry customers are at a crossroads: Either stick with BlackBerry or switch to some other smartphone platform. If you’re still using a BlackBerry, then you’ve probably grown tired of watching the smartphone world pass you by. However, the new BlackBerry 10 OS is here, and the BlackBerry Z10 is selling fairly well out of the gate.
Let me be clear; I’m not arguing whether people in the market for a new smartphone should consider a BlackBerry Z10 over, say, an iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy SIII. That’s certainly a debate worth having, but I’m focusing specifically on whether existing BlackBerry customers should stay the course. If you’re on the fence, here are arguments both in favor of and against staying loyal to BlackBerry.
Reasons to stay the course
Businesses that either provide BlackBerry smartphones, or that allow workers to use their own smartphones through a BYOD (“bring your own device”) policy, need to be able to protect company data. Thankfully, BB10 includes a feature called Balance, which segregates personal apps and data from business apps and data.
Balance protects company apps and data from being accessed by personal apps on managed devices. It prevents business information from being copied and pasted into personal apps or email messages, and enables IT admins to ensure business data stays separate and secure. The apps and data still appear together seamlessly, though, so the user doesn’t need to be concerned with which is which, or switch back and forth between business and personal apps.
The Peek feature in BlackBerry 10 allows you to sneak a peek at your latest notifications and messages without actually switching apps or exiting the current app you’re using. Peek will help users work more efficiently and be more productive with the device. Smartphones are overloaded with apps and data, so any feature that makes it easier to navigate among them and get things done is welcome.
3. Innovative typing
One of the defining characteristics of a BlackBerry smartphone has always been its physical QWERTY keyboard. Apple’s iPhone and the vast majority of Android smartphones, however, rely purely on a touchscreen display.
With the Z10, BlackBerry also embraces touchscreen input, but BlackBerry has developed a unique intuitive typing technology that BlackBerry fans will probably appreciate. As Melissa Perenson reviewed the BlackBerry Z10, “This keyboard essentially eliminates the need for acronyms and text-speak such as “OTW,” “BRB,” and “OMG,” as typing full words takes much less time.” And, she continues, it will still take some “coordination and muscle memory to switch between tapping letters, swiping upward, and occasionally moving your thumb to see the words it’s suggesting.” But the technology should help BlackBerry loyalists transition from a physical keyboard.
4. Parity, finally
BlackBerry 10 has been a long time coming, and BlackBerry has struggled to keep up or offer anything compelling in recent years.The company has managed to catch up, more or less, with its new OS and hardware.
The Z10 is a fairly standard touchscreen smartphone, offering a 1.5GHz dual-core processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. It has GPS, NFC, and all of the features one expects in a leading smartphone. This doesn’t raise the bar, per se, but BlackBerry fans can at least feel less envy over friends and coworkers with iPhones and Android handsets.
5. BlackBerry infrastructure
From a business perspective, companies already invested in BlackBerry infrastructure have incentive to stick with the platform. It offers more control and manageability for the company than competing smartphones do.
BlackBerry 10 is completely new, though, and it can’t be managed using legacy BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) implementations. However, BlackBerry has gone to great lengths to provide new tools to help bridge the gap and make it as painless as possible for customers to navigate the transition, and simultaneously manage both new and legacy BlackBerry devices.
Although the new BlackBerry OS and smartphone aren’t necessarily groundbreaking, BlackBerry has done an admirable job of developing innovative features and building a mobile OS and smartphone device that are on a par with rival platforms. This may not win many new customers for BlackBerry, but it’s a compelling reason for existing customers to stick with what they know.
Next page: That’s not good enough? 5 reasons to forget about BlackBerry…
Reasons to defect
On the other hand, maybe you’ve had enough of sticking with BlackBerry as it struggles to reinvent itself. The relevance of its smartphone platform has plummeted in recent years, as RIM was too arrogant to recognize the challenges posed by iOS and Android. There’s a lot to like about the new BlackBerry 10 and Z10 handset, but it’s all too little, too late. Here’s why you should drop the brand:
1. Lack of apps
BlackBerry has gone to great lengths to ensure a reasonable inventory of apps for its new platform. It paid a bounty to developers as an incentive, which has largely worked; BB10 had tens of thousands of apps at launch. Compared to the hundreds of thousands of apps available for iOS and Android, though, this is a drop in the bucket. Granted, the total number of apps is not very relevant as long as key apps are available. Users expect apps like Facebook, Netflix, and Kindle to be available—yet for BlackBerry 10, they’re not.
2. Technical difficulties
Reliability is important for any mobile service, but it’s particularly crucial for a smartphone used for business productivity. If the service goes down, business shuts down—and that’s simply unacceptable. No service is perfect, but RIM/BlackBerry has had more than its fair share of outages over the past couple years. Hopefully outages won’t be regular events moving forward, but the credibility has been tarnished. Only time will tell.
BlackBerry rose to dominance at a time that IT admins were still dictating technology choices. Now, users have much more voice in the decision process, or simply get to choose their own device. If shoppers at Best Buy won’t choose a BlackBerry Z10 over an iPhone 5 or a Samsung Galaxy SIII, BlackBerry is in trouble.
Case in point: While the traditional BlackBerry audience might be the right fit for the services provided by DisclosureNet, a cloud-based service for viewing and analyzing corporate financials and other disclosure documents. However, the company is taking a wait-and-see approach to developing a BB10 app. I spoke with Mihnea Galeteanu, product manager for DisclosureNet, who isn’t confident that BlackBerry can capture the attention of consumers. He believes that because of the BYOD and “consumerization” trends, it will be difficult for BlackBerry to gain traction without consumer demand.
As the DisclosureNet dilemma illustrates, there’s also a bit of chicken-and-egg syndrome involved. Consumers may opt against BlackBerry due to a lack of key apps, and the developers are less likely to create apps for the platform due to a lack of demand. It’s a recipe for disaster.
4. A sinking ship
I don’t know if BlackBerry will disappear completely, but it’s not going to rebound. Scraping single-digit market share to take fourth place behind iOS, Android, and Windows Phone doesn’t exactly instill confidence.
There have been suggestions that BlackBerry could shift gears and license the OS to other vendors—but at this point I’m not sure any vendors would bother. And there’s been talk of BlackBerry being acquired in whole or in part. If your company relies on BlackBerry, this is a good time to choose a new path on your own terms, rather than waiting for the company to cave in on itself.
5. BlackBerry Fusion
One of the best reasons to start transitioning off of BlackBerry is that BlackBerry has made the process easy. BlackBerry Fusion lets you manage iOS and Android devices using your existing infrastructure. Thanks to BlackBerry Fusion, you can test out both iOS and Android without having to commit upfront, and you can migrate to a new platform (or platforms) over time.
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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.