BB10, Z10 and Q10: why they won't save BlackBerry

The now RIM-less BlackBerry has unveiled a strong OS with some impressive hardware to go with it, but it's all too little, and way too late.

Opinion The now RIM-less BlackBerry has unveiled a strong OS with some impressive hardware to go with it, but it's all too little, and way too late.

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins unveiled the Z10 and Q10 BlackBerrys at an event in New York today. (Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

BlackBerry, BlackBerry, BlackBerry — that's probably all your tech news feed has been pushing at you all day. BB10, the Q10, the Z10: BlackBerry has come in swinging with the hopes that when the final bell rings, it'll still be standing, rather than flat on the canvas.

Sadly, it is almost definitely a swing and miss.

If you read the coverage, the praise for both hardware and software has been constantly tempered by one refrain: this is great for a BlackBerry. It's somewhere between condescending and damning with faint praise — BlackBerry gets a pat on the back for doing its gosh-darn hardest and not sucking.

One attendee at the launch in New York even offered this high praise of the Z10: "It's easy to forget that you're using a BlackBerry".

Plenty of phone operating systems haven't sucked. The Nokia N9 was a combination of breath-taking hardware and clean, concise and above all eminently usable OS in the form of MeeGo. Windows Phone is also a good OS and it has still failed to take any real market share away from Android and Apple since its 2010 debut.

One of the big issues is that BlackBerry isn't offering anything real that can't be found on other platforms. In the past couple of years, nobody has looked down at their iPhone and thought "this just doesn't do what my BlackBerry did". Same for Android. BlackBerry's core concept that it was the phone for business people has fallen by the wayside — there's just no longer that requirement to have a split between a work phone and a personal phone.

There's no real "killer app" from any of BlackBerry's offerings. Our US colleague Jessica Dolcourt said of BB10 that "happy Android and iOS users won't find a reason to switch" — and at this late stage in the game, switching is what had to happen for BlackBerry to climb back up the charts and give Apple and Android cause to get nervous.

There are two key points that seem to best illustrate what BlackBerry has done wrong. One is the fact that the Q10 — the phone with the physical keyboard — is launching after the full touchscreen Z10.

BlackBerry needed to take a leaf from its own marketing collateral and "be bold" in this instance. A keyboard phone was the closest thing BlackBerry had to that aforementioned "killer app" — a genuine point of difference from every single other phone around today. More than that, it would have sent a clear signal back to old users that this was a true BlackBerry. That underneath the new OS and shiny hardware was the heart and soul that once made BlackBerry the cult device it was.

The other is apps. Much has been made of the 70,000 apps that will be available at launch. It's not enough. Not compared to Google Play and the iTunes App Store. And where are the incentives to get devs building and creating for a third platform? If they're barely willing to do it with Windows despite all of that Microsoft money, why will they do it for BlackBerry?

In fact, they're barely even doing it for BlackBerry now — it's been hardly mentioned in all the hoopla, but 40 per cent of those 70,000 apps are just Android apps with a different hat on. They're not native for BB10.

As we said yesterday, a phone ecosystem lives and dies on its apps these days, and this seems to put BlackBerry in intensive care already.

If it were 2010 or even 2011, then we might be having a different conversation. But it's not and we aren't. BlackBerry will get some solid buzz from this, and curious customers will give the new handsets a little love, but barring an absolute left-field miracle, it'll be a blip for the company.

At the end of the day, BlackBerry can hold its head up and say that it went down swinging, that it went down with a bang, not a whimper — but, sadly, it's still definitely going down.

 

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