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New BlackBerry, same old story?

Slow Motion: The company formerly known as Research In Motion comes up short with delayed device

Jim Kerr is Alberta Venture's web editor. Get in touch with him at jkerr@albertaventure.com.

Jan 31, 2013

by Jim Kerr

It’s been quite the ride for the BlackBerry – the Research In Motion smartphone went from zero to hero in the mid-2000s, securing a firm grip on the business crowd, while its BBM messaging service ingrained it in pop culture as personal use skyrocketed.

Then came the iPhone and the smartphone revolution, if you will.

The BlackBerry’s share of the market dwindled, loyal BBMers moved on and the Canadian company went through a major shakeup or two, seemingly unable to compete with the likes of Apple, Google & Microsoft. (For some insight into RIM’s failure to innovate, we have an interview with former executive Ray DePaul here).

Fast forward a couple more years and “the company formerly known as RIM” now goes by BlackBerry and is out with a new operating system and a pair of new devices. To go along with that, they’ve launched a prophetic sounding marketing campaign for the Z10 (their first touchscreen phone) and Q10 (a “traditional” BB), with a “Leap of Faith” theme.

Don’t worry, it gets better: a night before the Wednesday release, BlackBerry put out a video that featured a couple of company executives jumping from the top of the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas.

“Oh my god, we’re on the way down,” shouts VP of developer relations, Alex Saunders, in the video. The Mayans would be proud!

In a world where the music video for “Gangnam Style” can surpass a billion YouTube views in six months, the one-time kings of the smartphone game managed just over 13,000 hits on their Stratosphere stunt by Thursday morning.

As for the products themselves, Buzzfeed calls them “competently designed” with some clever features, but says the Z10 “doesn’t necessarily do anything better than any of its competition.” A big knock on the platform, apart from the delays in getting it to market, is a serious lack of apps. That’s quite an issue given that most of us hardly use smartphones to make calls anymore.

CNet’s Ben Parr says the Z10 is the best phone BlackBerry has ever produced in terms of hardware, and the Q10 isn’t bad either, but agrees that a lack of apps is a problem the company may not be able to overcome. To put it into perspective, Parr says BlackBerry offers 70,000 apps, compared to the 800,000 that Apple and Android customers have access to.

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With that comes the issue of “exclusive” apps – whenever a new app bursts onto the scene, it will “always come from iOS and Android, because that’s where all apps begin,” says Parr. That means that by the time you get your hands on the latest “hot” app, it will have cooled off considerably.

Still interested in picking one of these devices up?

If you live in the U.K., the Z10 is already on sale. In Canada and the United Arab Emirates, the phones should be available within a week and a half. If you’re one of the approximately 235 million smartphone users in the U.S., though, you’ll be waiting a little bit longer.

Bloomberg says many shareholders were upset over the lack of a firm release date in the U.S., though it should be sometime in March. The company blames the mobile phone providers in the U.S., who they say are taking longer to test the devices than other countries. The Q10 isn’t expected to hit the market until April because of the company’s focus on getting its touchscreen out there, which has fans of the traditional model unhappy as well.

Is this the end of the line for the company formerly known as Research In Motion? That’s a question for Father Time.

In terms of the technology, it sounds like BlackBerry is about on par with everyone else, but that’s about where it ends. The lack of apps that basically everyone else has access to will likely be a big factor for many potential customers.

Throw in the worry that the company might not even be around for much longer and you might be looking at the beginning of the end for one of our country’s biggest success stories.

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