Is the new BlackBerry a good bet?
First of all, get past the downward flutter in BlackBerry’s share price. Market traders are notorious for their tendency to “buy on rumour, sell on news.”
And last week, news is what they got. In spades.
After months of buzz that drove company shares up 50 per cent from the beginning of January, the BlackBerry Q10 and Z10 were launched with considerable fanfare.
Of course, there was the predictable bleating about delayed delivery times to the key U.S. market (it’ll be March or April before it hits shelves), the nature of tackling such an intensely competitive market, and the fact the new device doesn’t have the same breadth of apps as Android or iPhone.
To be fair, any delays into such a major market have the two-fold impact of reducing earnings and allowing potential buyers to get distracted by other options between the launch and market dates.
No question, BlackBerry (as the company is now called) will have its work cut out to hold customer attention and sustain demand for the BlackBerry 10 until it’s available. There’s always something new and shiny in the wings and when people decide they want something — including a BlackBerry 10 — they want it now.
Apple has done a remarkable job of making “the wait” part of the user experience, teasing their interest to keep it alive until the new product drops. Because BlackBerry is perceived as a loser rather than a winner, however, it’ll take some special finesse to manage expectations over the next few months.
But all of that overlooks the fact that this is a redemption story. And if there’s one thing people like more than tearing down iconic people or companies, it’s watching their resurrection. In tech circles, there’s no more eloquent example — again — than Apple, which clawed its way back from bankruptcy over a decade.
Even though BlackBerry doesn’t have the luxury of such a protracted recovery in the current cut-throat mobile market, it has the narrative — and the potential — to make it work.
Another key thing in BlackBerry’s favour is that the corporate mindset seems to have genuinely shifted with the installation of CEO Thorsten Heins last year.
Typically, when companies are confronted with a fundamental shift in their fortunes they engage in creative inertia. They do what they’ve always done, only they ramp up and do more of it. Instead of undertaking the painful process of real change, they just flail around more aggressively, doing the same old thing.
BlackBerry, on the other hand, appears to be making a genuine, measurable effort to change — and to listen. Rather than telling the market what it should want and developing products based on its own assumptions as it has in the past, BlackBerry has responded with features based on user feedback.
Where it once positioned itself as a somewhat lofty device for the hard-core business user, it has gone out of its way to catch up on the apps it once ignored. The BlackBerry 10 makes it easier to code or adapt apps for its operating system.
As for the new keyboard that’s been introduced, users drove that refinement as well.
“We know there are a lot of keyboard lovers out there," Heins said. "We heard you loud and clear."
Listening and changing also led to BlackBerry Balance, which treats users holistically and allows them to divide their device between the more traditional, security-conscious BlackBerry business functions and personal use.
Balance allows for installation of apps on BlackBerry 10’s “personal side,” but lets a corporate IT department keep the “work side” locked down and fully secure, keeping data safe.
The extent of these design and attitudinal changes are symbolically reflected in the change in name from Research In Motion to BlackBerry. BlackBerry is, after all, the name of the product to which its customers have a direct connection — not RIM.
In order to preserve the delicate balance of appealing to stalwart customers by keeping the features they love while introducing new ones, BlackBerry has enhanced the Messenger or BBM instant messaging technology that made it so popular at the outset. One way it’s enhanced a core function, for example, is enabling video chat over the secure-as-ever BBM network. (Something that will appeal to the important youth market far more than appointing Alicia Keyes as “creative director.”)
The market will continue to bat BlackBerry shares around — the company has moved into the zone where it’s a “show me” rather than a “trust me” stock. And that’s damage it’ll have to repair.
The issue is whether, after all that listening and all that tweaking, it will be enough.
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