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Can BlackBerry 10 save BlackBerry?

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 Editorial: Can BlackBerry 10 save BlackBerry?4th February 2013

The launch of BlackBerry 10 is easily one of the most highly anticipated announcements of the past few months. As almost everybody knows, BB10 is a make-or-break deal for BlackBerry.. but what are the chances of it succeeding?

There are some promising signs - the company formerly known as Research in Motion is so committed to this new platform that it has changed its name to BlackBerry. This is important because there were rumours that RIM might try to punt the handset business to someone else and revert to being just an intellectual property company. On one level, this is a statement of confidence in the new platform. On another it is an indication that BlackBerry will sink or swim on this product announcement.

The hardware looks great - hands on reports of the new Z10 indicate that it is fantastically well-made. The software looks fairly polished with a few rough edges that will probably be fixed soon, and it seems to be more modern than iOS and Android but less minimalist than Windows, and with several powerful features that set it apart from the competition.

 Palm Pre and BlackBerry Q10 But building a better mousetrap doesn't necessarily mean that people will beat a path to your door. There are several examples from history where mobile phone companies have tried to turn around their fortunes and failed.

One such story is that of Palm. As with BlackBerry, Palm was once the market leader in its particular segment, that of the handheld PDA. When that market started to morph into smartphones, Palm followed very slowly and an agonisingly long decline followed. But rather than just face extinction, Palm worked extremely hard and came up with a highly competitive product in the Palm Pre, which certainly in terms of software (WebOS) was easily better than the competition and it was based on a competent hardware platform. Palm pushed the Pre with a massive advertising programme, and development continued when HP took Palm over. Despite everything, neither HP nor Palm could turn the thing around and the whole range was killed off.

There are other parallels. Nokia fell quickly out of favour, and despite spending an enormous amount of effort with the new Lumia range of Windows phones they are still struggling in the market. Motorola also nearly collapsed after taking its eye off the ball and never recovered its market share, and is now propped up by Google.

Nokia, Motorola, Palm and BlackBerry all made the fatal (or nearly fatal) mistake of not spotting the warning signs early enough. We pointed out the problems with the BlackBerry roadmap back in 2009 and things really only got worse after that. Tech companies need to be looking not only at the next big thing, but they need to be looking at the next big thing after that too.

It would seem then that history teaches us that tech companies cannot turn themselves around, but there is one major exception to this rule, and that is Apple. During the late 1980s and most of the 1990s, Apple was fading away. By 1997 the company was on its knees and had been haemorrhaging cash for a long time, and it looked like Apple's future was seriously in doubt. Obviously, Apple is now one of the most successful companies in the industry.. so what happened? The answer is: Steve Jobs. Jobs fundamentally changed the culture within Apple and explored new and very innovative profit lines.

What BlackBerry needs is a Jobsian-level of change, and BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins claims that this process has already started. But the market is much more competitive than it was in pre-iPhone days, and BlackBerry will be hard pushed to compete against highly capable rivals. A culture change in itself will not be enough.

 Steve Jobs and Thorsten Heins At best, BlackBerry can hope to gain third place in the market after Apple and Android, but that means beating the combined might of Microsoft and Nokia who are slowly getting some traction. And although we think that BlackBerry 10's user experience is possibly the best of the bunch, we suspect that this is too little, too late and that BlackBerry's fate has been sealed by years of inaction.

The good news is that BlackBerry has a reasonably large pile of cash, so it doesn't matter if BlackBerry 10 is not an immediate success - but they must start to see an improvement during 2013 if they want to survive.

 

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