The day BlackBerry fans have long awaited has finally arrived. For more than a year now we’ve been hearing about the promise of BlackBerry 10, the platform that was supposed to take the flagging smartphone manufacturer back to the top. If they do ascend the smartphone ranks, though, it won’t be as Research In Motion. The company’s first announcement this morning was a pretty significant one: they are now called BlackBerry. It’s a sensible change, since most people refer to RIM as BlackBerry anyway. But that wasn’t the biggest announcement of the morning.
The big news, as expected, was the unveiling of two new BlackBerry 10 phones. First is the Q10, the traditional-looking BlackBerry. We actually saw the Q10 previewed a few weeks ago, but now it’s up front and center for us. The biggest physical change is the taller screen. Older BlackBerry QWERTY models featured a horizontal rectangle screen, while the Q10 features a vertical rectangle screen. This will help keep the pixel-aspect ratio similar to the other devices, making life easier for developers.
In terms of looks, the Q10 certainly beats Android phones with QWERTY keyboards. Try as manufacturers might, they couldn’t create the same effect that BlackBerry has with its smartphones throughout the years. It is, in essence, a heavily updated version of the BlackBerry 9930, which was by far the best BlackBerry released until today. The new operating system could be just what the BlackBerry needs. It’s easy to see many former BlackBerry loyalists coming back to try this one — at least those who haven’t fallen in love with Android or iPhone (guilty as charged on this end).
The Z10 is the phone we’ve been seeing in various iterations for the past eight or nine months. It’s a standard full touchscreen, though the bezel is active for various gestures. That’s perhaps a crucial issue for BlackBerry 10 in general: will people like the gestures, or will they consider them too much trouble? If it’s the latter BlackBerry is in trouble, because much of BlackBerry 10′s navigation is based on those gestures. Another crucial factor will be the touchscreen keyboard. It’s really the only aspect of the Galaxy S III that I dislike, and it has been a BlackBerry specialty for years. If they can get that right, they’ll win over many customers.
Will these devices save the BlackBerry brand? With consumers it’s a tough question. Many have become attached to iPhone or Android and will see little reason to switch — especially with the Galaxy S IV coming out, in addition to many other exciting Androids such as a new HTC flagship phone. The 2013 iPhone could make waves as well, given the relatively lukewarm response to the iPhone 5.
On the enterprise side it does seem that BlackBerry could maintain its foothold with current clients. The question of winning back former customers is a bit difficult. A friend who works in IT for a major corporation says that they stopped using their BlackBerry server years ago and that 99 percent of the company is on iPhone or Android. So why would they switch back? If iPhone and Android are adequate there seems to be little reason.
Has BlackBerry released its best models yet? It appears so. But sometimes your best just isn’t enough. And in this case, it’s hard to shed the skepticism I’ve had for BlackBerry. The long period of underwhelming phones, which ended with a line of unimpressive models in mid-late 2011 and was followed by 16 months of no output, might be too much to overcome. Android has taken serious steps in that time, and has really hooked many of its users.
Having multiple platforms will certainly help, and BlackBerry does have the brand value to forge on. But for them, it’s likely a battle for third place, and to stay in business. While their announcements today might have been exciting in relative terms, they’ve done little to combat the competitive advantages Apple and Android have created in the last few years.
You can check out more for yourself at the Inside BlackBerry Blog.