As of today we are 4 months deep into the launch of BlackBerry 10 and the commercial beginning of the re-launch of the company. I say “commercial” beginning only to differentiate it from the years of work that went into the buildup of the launch.
So here we are 4 months later. Many BlackBerry owners are now sporting either a Z10 or a Q10, but it’s early days into the upgrade cycle for many reasons. This includes the high cost of BB10 devices in emerging markets, the later launch of the Z10 and Q10 in the USA relative to other markets, and of course the late launch of the Q10 altogether (to everybody in the US waiting for a Q10, the waiting is *almost* over).
I thought it would make sense to do some out-loud thinking about where BlackBerry goes from here. First, let’s recap where we are now.
Having missed BlackBerry Live in Orlando earlier this month, I caught up with a few folks who did attend (including the full time guys at Team CrackBerry) and it seems pretty clear at this point, judging from anecdotes coming with those who had conversations with BlackBerry executives, that the Q10 is shaping up to be an immense success while the Z10 is doing just ok in the market. It was off to a great start in Canada, the UK and other markets, but the US launch so far has been quieter.
I think it’s fair to say that BlackBerry 10, first launched on the Z10, proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that this company can get back in the game with a solid user interface and super responsive, stable, and secure operating system. The global launch went well, demand was pretty good and I’m certainly a huge fan of the device. But it seems it hasn’t been enough to drive big volume among the majority of the smartphone-toting world who prefers a full touch screen.
Was it the more limited apps and games selection? If so, I think the story is changing by the day. In my own case I’ve been wanting Skype for a very long time. It finally arrived, and I’m absolutely loving it. That’s a major app gap closure for me. Everyone has their own needs and slowly but surely, BlackBerry is meeting those needs.
Then came the Q10 launch. Absolutely awesome device, and we know this appeals heavily to the huge number of physical QWERTY users out there who are still supportive of BlackBerry. At first I thought this device would sell, by far, in larger numbers to existing BlackBerry subscribers. But maybe (just maybe?) there is a much wider audience. Yesterday Adam mentioned a Seeking Alpha story about how the Q10 is the #1 selling phone on the SFR network in France. I spent the summer of 2011 in France with my family on vacation and I can tell you from experience that, at the time, Samsung was the top dog in terms of growth and almost nobody had a BlackBerry. The brand was close to dead among the French population in Languedoc, where I stayed. So if the Q10 is even selling well there, forget about it being #1, that’s an incredibly interesting data point.
Is there a possibility that people are more interested in physical keyboards than most industry analysts (and vendors) predicted? Maybe the reason so many all-touch phones have sold is because that’s (almost) the only option people have when buying Android or iOS hardware? Is the BlackBerry Q10 (and soon Q5) positioned to ignite a comeback of the physical keyboard? I don’t claim to have the answer, but I’m intrigued, and I can’t wait to see what happens when the Q10 officially launches in the US.
This summer the Q5 hits the market. This will be the first time BlackBerry has a phone for emerging markets that is reasonably affordable. What will the retail price be? How profitable will it be for the company? It all remains to be seen, but if the Q10 sells well in developed markets I think it’s a sure sign that the Q5 will sell well in emerging markets.
The Q10 keeps this company in business, perhaps even pushing earnings well beyond most analyst estimates.
Yet BlackBerry still needs to mount a comeback in the US market, and it won’t do this without a successful all-touch phone. That takes us to the Aristo, the company’s widely expected larger screen "phablet". If the Z10 isn’t driving big volume in the US can a larger screen phone be the cure? Is the market really becoming split between those who want a smaller screen and physical keyboard versus those who want massive all-glass phones?
Here’s where I’ll wrap this up for now. I think that after 4 months of commercial availability, BlackBerry 10 is on a solid path to recapture market share. The hardware and OS are excellent. The Q10 brings back the physical keyboard that so many people want. BBM could become the global standard in mobile messaging. The app gap is (slowly) closing. And when I talk about BlackBerry with my friends nobody chimes in with, “Oh, those guys are dying.” A few months ago, on the other hand, it happened all the time.
The current state of things: The Q10 keeps this company in business, perhaps even pushing earnings well beyond most analyst estimates. But we need to see more, and I’m super interested in what’s next. As long as BlackBerry really does keep moving, the fight will remain interesting.