Why the Z10 and Q10 will not save BlackBerry

commentary Before you eviscerate CNET contributor Ben Parr in comments, let him explain himself. It's all about the children. And apps.

BlackBerry Q10 and Z10
Two words: false prophets. Sarah Tew/CNET

BlackBerry is betting its future on the Z10 and its new OS, but they won't be enough to prevent the company's inevitable demise .

By every standard, the BlackBerry Z10 is the best smartphone that BlackBerry (formerly RIM) has ever produced. It's a massive upgrade in terms of design, user experience and technology. I welcome the departure of the home button in favor of gestures. So let me first give credit where credit is due: BlackBerry has built a decent phone. The Q10 isn't bad either, if you're a die-hard fan of QWERTY keyboards.

Building decent hardware isn't what matters most about a smartphone, though. And for those of you who think software is the most important component of a smartphone, you're also wrong.

What makes or breaks a smartphone are the apps. And in that area, BlackBerry is still sorely lacking. That's not to say BlackBerry hasn't done everything short of delivering the moon to attract developers -- they have. BlackBerry claims 70,000 apps, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype, Rdio and Rovio's Angry Birds (soon).

That's still just 8.75% of Apple's massive iOS app library, though (800,000). Android has just as many apps. Even Microsoft has north of 150,000 and has shown a willingness to spend the money necessary to get app developers on board.

So let's do a headcount of the apps that are missing from BlackBerry: Camera+, Google Maps (BlackBerry's default offering sucks), Pandora, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Spotify, Instagram and Snapchat.

Of that group, Instagram and Snapchat are the most important. Why? Because they're the ones that appeal most to the younger generation of smartphone users. Just follow your 10-year-old cousin on Instagram and you'll quickly realize that this is the way she communicates.

But that's not even the biggest problem, because BlackBerry will eventually get Instagram. The issue is this: when a new application sweeps the teenage market (Snapchat, Tinder, etc.), it will always come from iOS and Android, because that's where all apps begin. Out of those 70,000 apps BlackBerry is boasting, how many of them are exclusive? That number will never be very high, and that matters more than anything else.

For BlackBerry to survive, it needs to find a way to grow. It can't simply retain its existing subscriber base and expect to stick around as a company, because it doesn't have the resources or scale to fend off an eventual acquisition. And I tend to agree with S&P Capital IQ analyst James Moorman's assessment of the BlackBerry 10 : "We believe the new devices will do more to retain existing Blackberry subscribers than to lure new subscribers."

BlackBerry fans are going to savage me for this column, but here's what I want you to do before you start screaming at me in the comments: find a group of 10-year-olds (a dozen is fine) and ask them, "If I had an iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry to give you, which phone would you want?"

And that, my friends, is why the Z10 and Q10 will not save BlackBerry.

 

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