BlackBerry Needed "Wow" - Delivered "Pretty Good"

By Tim Parker | January 30, 2013 AAA

Let's be honest. Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) along with the Android platform and even to a smaller degree, Microsoft's (Nasdaq:MSFT) Windows have innovated the smartphone market in some big ways. Unlike new models of automobiles that come out every year with often slight or underwhelming changes, these companies routinely bless techno geeks with head-turning innovation that not only works well, but is beautiful to look at.

It's because the bar is set so high that any new product that comes to market in the smartphone space has to be a complete head turning, "WOW times 2" experience. Jaws have to drop and customers have to be speechless.

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Enter Research In Motion (Nasdaq:RIMM). On Jan. 30, it held an event to unveil the new BlackBerry 10 phones. Unlike Apple where we would have to read a real-time feed of the goings-on, this unveiling was shown live on financial media and webcasted.

Apparently, Apple not only innovated the smartphone market but also how to introduce products because every tech company wants to use the same approach now. Typically this involves a theatre-like show complete with big multimedia as the backdrop and the company CEO holding the product and talking about how it's the best.

That's exactly what RIMM did. First, the company revealed that it was renaming itself to BlackBerry and giving itself a new ticker symbol BBRY. This, it might be argued, was the biggest head-turning part of the event (other than cutting some random fan's ponytail off). A name (Research in Motion) that meant absolutely nothing to consumers and investors alike will soon be gone.

At this point CEO Thorsten Heins came to the stage with all of the swagger of a high school chess club equipment manager and went through the obligatory thank yous and "we're the best" marketing hype. He then unveiled the two new BlackBerry phones complete with the new BlackBerry 10 operating system.

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In a company release, RIMM said, "Every feature, every gesture, and every detail in BlackBerry 10 is designed to keep you moving." Heins also called the BlackBerry "an entirely new mobile experience."

Let's check out this "entirely new mobile experience." First, RIMM highlighted Skype, Twitter and Angry Birds when it touted the apps integration of the phone. Anybody ever hear of these apps? Other than everyone that is? The BlackBerry 10 platform launched with 70,000 apps but Apple has surpassed 775,000 apps. While it's fair to say that when the iPhone launched, it had zero, are consumers going to buy (literally) that argument? After all that was 2007. This is now.

Next, the new BlackBerry operating system (OS in techie terms) satisfied the big name tech. reviews. CNET called it "pretty good" and ABC called it "actually, pretty good" and "similar to the iPhone."

The OS is gesture-based, meaning that swiping to the left, right, up and down are how you navigate. (Sound familiar?) The OS organizes the apps just like other phones, and has many of the same core apps that smartphone users already know.

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On the surface, the new OS is a giant leap forward but, at least for now, it did nothing but bring the BlackBerry up to 2012 (or maybe 2011) smartphone standards. How many consumers are going to switch from their current phone to a BlackBerry that doesn't do anything new?

Corporate clients might like the new "Balance" feature which allows users to separate their work smartphone from their personal phone without having two separate units. By having two separate profiles, personal use won't comprise corporate security - in theory.

Maybe the phones, rather than the OS will save the company from extinction. Listening to the webcast felt a little awkward. It went something like this: "Here's the new BlackBerry Phones!" Awkward silence, followed by tepid, short-lived applause.

The BlackBerry Z10 complete with a name that feels about as current as the compact disk, comes with a virtual keyboard that some, including ABC News, say is the best virtual keyboard on the market. That's good news but other features including LTE capability and a dual core processor are nothing new.

The Q10 keeps the physical keyboard that so many BlackBerry die-hards love. Props to the company for holding onto something that people have long loved about the phone.

The Bottom Line
BlackBerry faced a task that was almost impossible. It had to unveil something that was clearly, an "entirely new mobile experience." It didn't do that. It has some features that some say are missing on the iPhone and Android platforms but in the smartphone world, achieving "WOW" is hard to do and BlackBerry fell short.

What the company did do was impress its current user base, but that likely will not make it a major player in the smartphone market again. It needed to attract new customers. That is not likely to happen and investors sold shares in droves after the announcement because of that.

The biggest news of the day ended up being the name change.

At the time of writing, Tim Parker owned shares of Apple since 2012.

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