The Blackberry Z10 launched on January 30, 2013. Image Courtesy: BlackBerry
The Blackberry Z10 launched on January 30, 2013. Image Courtesy: BlackBerry

It’s make or break time for BlackBerry

By Sorab Ghaswalla

Mumbai, January 31, 2013

The question is just sitting out there, begging to be asked - Will the BlackBerry 10 launched on Wednesday (India time) save this company in distress? Indian and Indonesian users take special note because these two countries have the largest number of BB users in the world.

The launch of a new generation of BlackBerry smartphones in New York, USA (simultaneous launches elsewhere in the world) was not just another product launch. For the former Research In Motion Ltd (RIM), re-named Blackberry at the event itself, it is the final bout in survival. 
The two phones that the company launched – Z10 and Q10 – running on a brand new Operating System, the Blackberry 10, have to endear themselves to BB and non-BB users around the globe, and sell in such volumes so as to drag BB out of its morass. Just to further drive in the point, BB had not launched any product for 18 months as it went about planning and strategizing a new game plan.
So this is it. The final haul. The next few months will tell us and the guys at this Canadian company whether their ideas, sweat and time have borne fruit, or whether, well, all of them need to look out for new jobs. A thought underlined by a remark made at the launch by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Thorsten Heins who said, "It is the most challenging year of my career."
Heins, whose anniversary leading the company occurred last week. "It is also the most exhilarating and exciting one," said Heins, whose anniversary leading the company occurred last week.
Somewhere at the back of my mind, like a stuck record, this thought keeps renewing itself – three of the world’s best phone makers at one time – Apple, Nokia and Blackberry – find themselves at the wrong end of the slope.
In my column last week, I had delved at length on the way growth at Apple was being stymied. And what is even more thought-provoking is the fact that the iPhone, once said to be responsible for the downfall of the BB, is itself facing stiff competition from another electronics giant – Samsung. I had foreseen the powerful, onward march of Samsung as far back as 2009 when it was still a fledgling phone manufacturer, when smartphones were few and far apart. 
Today, all three manufacturers who I have named above are united not only by a common slow-growth story but also by the fact that their nearest rival is, Samsung! So this should be the story of Samsung but I shall save that for another day.
The essential difference between the Z10 and Q10 is that the second phone uses a physical keyboard, as many BB users would be familiar with. The Z10 is a touchscreen phone, something like Apple’s iPhone and other handsets running on Google Inc.'s Android software, including Samsung's popular Galaxy. But this is not the first touchscreen phone from BB as many would be led to believe.
BB has done its back office well. It has tied up with almost all the US carriers worth the name. It has also ensured that as many as 70,000 smartphone apps including all the popular ones like Angry Birds, Whats App, so that BB users do not lag behind their Android or iOS counterparts. Of course, this is not even one-third of the total number of apps the latter have access to, but all of us know, who needs so many apps?
The Z10, which BlackBerry will call the "Zed-10" outside the U.S., will go on sale Thursday in United Kingdom Thursday. The same model will be released in Canada on Feb. 5 and will cost about $150 there with a three-year wireless contract. In the US, the phones are expected to arrive in the March-April period, something which analysts are saying is a ``mistake’’, because by then, Google & other manufacturers would have introduced newer models.
But if the initial technical reaction to the new BBs are an indication to go by, the company seems to have done a decent job in launching the two new phones. The stock markets may have discounted the launch but the tech guys overall seem to be happy with the Z10 and the Q10, and the Blackberry 10 OS.
What remains to be seen is whether the new BB can leapfrog and turn Android and iOS followers switch. Just getting the present BB users to buy the new phones won’t be enough for a company that has hit a financial low; it needs conversions from non-BB users to truly emerge from the red into the black.
Previous columns by Sorab Ghaswalla

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