I have a treat for you all. Typically for this column, I go out on CNET, scout out member comments on articles or product reviews and highlight them here for you to read. However, this time I decided to change it up a little. While I was scouting out comments by members on BlackBerry content for my readers reaction column, I took notice of member Nate650 -- I realized he was actively engaged and present in almost every BlackBerry article or product review on CNET. I'd call Nate650 a BlackBerry fanboy, but I'd rather call him a passionate brand loyalist. For me the word "fanboy" comes with some negative connotations -- a brand loyalist who tends to behave immaturely and resorts to personal attacks when others disagree with him or her. And given the history of Nate650's posts, I'd say he is quite the opposite and is quite civil in his comments. Anyway, enough about fanboyism.
A week ago, I personally contacted Nate650 via email and asked him if he'd like to write a few paragraphs on why he thought BlackBerry would survive. And if he wrote something thought-provoking, I would be willing to present his thoughts to the CNET audience. Lo and behold, a week later, Nate650 emailed me back with not only a few paragraphs about why he thought BlackBerry is well-positioned to rebound, but he also added quotes from a few fellow member comments as well. Talk about a well-thought-out piece! So let me stop here, and ask you to pull up a comfy chair, a cup of joe or a beer and let me present to you CNET member Nate650's thoughts on BlackBerry and why he thinks it will be around for the long haul. Here it is:
Dear fellow members,
I've been following BlackBerry news for many years. Those who follow the mobile industry are surely aware that the company has gone through rough times during the last five years. During that time countless people have been predicting the company's demise. To this day, reader comments such as "What's a BlackBerry?" or "BlackBerry is still around?" are prevalent in CNET BlackBerry-related articles. Here are some of those comments:
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"Of course they would need to pay iPhone users to even consider this offer. A BB phone? Are you kidding me now? What a downgrade. #BB-DEAD"
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"I'm sure the two people who own a BlackBerry are having a good laugh."
In perhaps the most brutal example,writes in response to :
"An enemy should know when it has been beaten and surrender rather than continue to send its soldiers to their certain deaths...BlackBerry you have been beaten. Stop sacrificing your soldiers in a pointless effort to try stay relevant. Just lie down and die; show some honor already and let your final few faithful supporters be absorbed into a army with a chance at achieving some level of victory and success.
You, BlackBerry, are a corpse, and like a corpse your only last use is to be food for the vultures, hyenas and maggots. Take heart in the fact that they even want to eat you; at least you are not yet so spoiled and rotted that even they would just let you rot to the dust. Seriously it's painful to even look at you and your ineptitude. Just go away."
Here's why I don't share that sentiment and why BlackBerry is well-positioned to rebound.
BlackBerry's latest CEO is known as a turnaround expert. He joined Sybase in 1997 and 13 years later the company was sold to SAP for $65 a share, which amounts to roughly 13 times its value around the time he became CEO. So far, BlackBerry investors like what they see as the stock is up more than 50 percent since John Chen joined the company. Part of his strategy is to put the focus back on enterprise, as evidenced by the recently released BlackBerry Passport, which boasts several business-oriented features, and which are detailed in the next section. Other enterprise-focused initiatives include BES12, a strategic partnership with Samsung, BlackBerry Blend, WorkLife, Enterprise Identity and BBM Meetings. While enterprise is the primary focus, BlackBerry hasn't completely abandoned the consumer space; the company has rolled out more consumer-focused features such as BBM Stickers, which could prove to be a valuable source of revenue.
In a market dominated by widescreen slabs of glass and plastic, the recently released Passport is a bold move that demonstrates BlackBerry's willingness to take risks. Among its unique features are a square 4.5-inch, 1,440x1,440-pixel screen and a touch-enabled three-row physical keyboard that enables users to, among other things, scroll through Web pages by sliding their finger across it. BlackBerry's "Work Wide" campaign with the Passport looks compelling, with ads such as this one demonstrating the advantages of the Passport's square screen.
The operating system behind BlackBerry's latest operating system, QNX, which many people are surprised to learn powers the infotainment systems in many cars, has many compelling features. Message handling is seamless and allows one to view messages from all sources (email, text messages, BBM messages, and social accounts including Facebook and Twitter) in one place. BlackBerry 10's messaging solution, called the Hub, is accessible from any screen of the OS by swiping from the bottom bezel up and to the right. Since a smartphone is first and foremost a communications tool, having messaging built into the core in such a manner makes sense.
In addition to its efficient message handling, BlackBerry 10's browser "obliterates the competition," according to speed tests conducted by New Relic. Many people are also surprised to learn that BB10 is capable of running most Android apps. In response to a comment I recently posted highlighting this feature, reader IVIUPPET writes, "Oh I didn't know that, nor would I have assumed it could run Android apps. That basically solves the problems then."
One particularly nifty feature of BB10 is BlackBerry Blend, which is, in BlackBerry's words, "software you can download for your computer and tablet that seamlessly brings messaging and content that's on your BlackBerry smartphone to your computer and tablet." A demo of Blend was shown during last week's Classic launch event. Skip to about 35:00 to see it in action. Blend is part of OS 10.3, which will be made available shortly to all BlackBerry 10 devices.
Other helpful BB10 shortcuts include swiping left on the keyboard to delete the last word (one finger swipe to delete one word, two finger swipe to delete two words, etc.) and swiping down to bring up special characters. Granted, there are areas where BB10 is lacking, such as multimessage management in the Hub, but BlackBerry has been regularly improving the user experience. For example, OS version 10.3 includes Speed Triage, which addresses the aforementioned limitation. Another hurdle BB10 faces is the learning curve. Since navigation is gesture-based and no "Home" button is present, a first time user may not immediately pick up on the paradigm shift without guidance or a hands-on tutorial.
It's obvious that one of BlackBerry's biggest problems is the stigma generated from BB10's predecessor. What I've observed is that most people continue to associate BlackBerry with the older BB7 devices such as the Bold. Though these devices have superb messaging capabilities, they fall severely short in other areas such as browser experience and speed. With BlackBerry 10, consumers no longer have the lack of critical functionality as a valid reason to dismiss BlackBerry, except perhaps in the area of app selection, but even that area is being addressed by partnering with Amazon to preinstall the Amazon Appstore on BlackBerry 10.3 devices.
Another problem BlackBerry faces is increased dependence on online sales, at least in the US I've walked into many retailers in the Bay Area looking for a BB10 device on display and disappointingly finding none in sight. If a retailer is displaying a BB10 device, I can easily imagine the learning curve issue I mentioned earlier being a problem. For a first time user, the mainstream iOS and Android operating systems are easier to grasp, so users playing around with a BB10 device may get frustrated and move on to a different option, perhaps even thinking that there was something wrong with the device. However, those willing to take a few minutes to learn how to use BB10 are in for a surprise. Getting people to do so remains the challenge.
While the obstacles I've outlined are significant, they're not enough to put to rest a company that essentially pioneered the smartphone. With the recent release of the unique Passport, which has garnered an average Amazon user rating of 4.8/5 with over 500 reviews, the Classic, which is sure to lure in hardcore fans, various strategic partnerships, renewed focus on enterprise and security, a strong following in emerging markets such as Indonesia and South Africa, improvements to BBM (including upcoming cross-platform video chat support), and Mr. Chen's expertise, BlackBerry has paved the way to recovery, though it will not come overnight.
Now that you've read Nate650 thoughts on BlackBerry, what do you think? Are you in agreement with him that Blackberry is well-positioned to rebound. Or are you in disagreement as you think BlackBerry is going to eventually throw in the towel? Whatever your thoughts, it's your turn to share with us. We look forward to reading your thoughts. Don't forget to vote in the poll!