The long awaited – too long awaited – launch of the new BlackBerry 10 operating system, and smartphones that run it, finally came today and now the world has to decide if they’re worth the wait and if the phones and OS can save the company.
At a launch event in New York City, Research in Motion unveiled BlackBerry 10 and the first two smartphones that will run it, the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10. And to also mark a new era for the company, CEO Thorsten Heins said that from this day forward, Research in Motion will be called BlackBerry because, obviously, BlackBerry has greater brand equity.
BlackBerry’s standing in the smartphone and tablet space has been badly damaged by delays in the development of BlackBerry 10, which was originally scheduled for early in 2012, then later in 2012 and now finally, January of 2013. The delay and doubt about BlackBerry gave Google Android, particularly with hardware partner Samsung, the opportunity to grab significant market share, followed by Apple iOS and its iPhone and iPad products.
So industry observers said BlackBerry 10 and its accompanying hardware really had to knock one out of the park. It remains to be seen whether that will happen, but it probably doesn’t help its cause that BlackBerry’s stock (now identified by the ticker symbol BBRY) fell by more than 8 percent in the first few hours after the launch.
In the launch presentation, various BlackBerry people demonstrated new features of the Z10, which has only a virtual keyboard, and the Q10, which retains the popular physical keyboard. But with both models, as far as I can see, the keys are designed well enough to avoid fat-finger typing of the wrong letter. BlackBerry says the keyboard “understands customers so they can type faster and more accurately.” As far as I can tell, that means it does auto-complete, which most any mobile keyboard does.
Another feature of BB 10 is what the company calls “Peak and Flow” into the “BlackBerry Hub.” The intent, BlackBerry says, is to put what apps and other features matter most to the user “just one swipe away.” That is a blessing, indicating the BlackBerry is replacing the clumsy trackball and touch pad technology of previous BlackBerrys to the swipe feature of Apple, Android and Windows Phone products.
Lastly, the company touts what it calls BlackBerry Balance, a way of arranging apps on the phone screen to separate personal apps from those someone uses for work.
The launch event included the new requisite celebrity cameo and BlackBerry brought out singer Alicia Keys, whom CEO Heins introduced as BlackBerry’s new Global Creative Director. I covered the launch of the Microsoft Windows Phone 8 OS in San Francisco last October where they introduced the actress Jessica Alba to provide an endorsement.
Appropriately, during a demo of the phones video capabilities, a video of an Alicia Keys song played. It’s aptly titled “New Day” and if from her latest CD.
“Today represents a new day in the history of BlackBerry,” Heins told his audience. “Two years ago, we had to make a very serious decision. Adopt someone else’s platform or build a whole new one from the ground up. We made the tough call to go it alone,” he said.
The Z10 and Q 10 will become available sometime in later March in the U.S. on the four major carriers, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, Heins said. However, specific plans vary by carrier. AT&T says it will offer both the Z10 and Q10, but Sprint only touts the availability of the Q10, while T-Mobile first promises only the Z10. It wasn’t immediately clear what Verizon’s plans are, though it’s site touted the Z10 and, like other carriers, invites customers to sign up to reserve a model.
The only pricing info BlackBerry shared was that the Z10 will be available in Canada as soon as Feb. 5 at $149.99 with a three-year carrier contract, said Heins. I don’t think those will be the same terms as in the U.S. where the norm is for a two-year contract.
BlackBerry has a lot of making up to do with customers who had been loyal for years -- many affectionately nicknamed the device their "CrackBerry" -- but became disenchanted with the brand after it languished and may have jumped to Apple, Samsung or others. In fact, even Ms. Keys admitted she had started to see other phones before returning to BlackBerry.
I regularly get market share numbers from IDC and other research firms so I’ll keep you posted on how BlackBerry performs.