There are some early signals that the former smartphone leader may be staging a comeback as BlackBerry announced last week that sales of its flagship Z10 have exceeded expectations and that they have just secured their largest ever order in company history.
So, what have they done to achieve this and is this a sustainable strategy?
Turn the clocks back to 2003 when RIM announced their first ever smartphone, which was built on their established email pager platform launched back in 1999. This device represented the first mass market approach for convergence – users could access their
emails, surf the web, make calls and receive texts all from the same handset. The natural target audience for these capabilities was the enterprise space and it didn’t take too long before BlackBerry became the de-facto choice for many IT departments. They
loved its configurability, security and ability to be in control. The end user loved the fact that they could manage their emails on the move and keep pace with developments 24x7 if they chose to (which coined the phrase “CrackBerry’s!!). User volumes grew
exponentially, as did revenues and company growth. Over time, the appeal of the BlackBerry spread and it was through the concept of Instant Messaging where they started to lure a younger audience who were obsessive text senders. By the end of 2012, though
a reported user base of 79m were using BlackBerry devices, it was clear that there were problems afoot with the volume of new smartphones shipped in decline and profitability turning into losses.
So what happened? Inevitably, with such amazing growth occurring the team at RIM failed to respond fast enough to the disruptive entrance of the iPhone in 2007 and then in 2010 the Samsung Galaxy range. These devices were deemed “cool” by the in-crowd
and brought huge levels of desirability never seen in the mobile device marketplace before. More importantly, they brought the concepts of a touchscreen user experience to a new level and introduced consumers to the world of apps – both of these notions were
simply alien to BB users at the time.
So how has BlackBerry responded with the launch of the Z10? Fundamentally, they have looked at their business to identify their core strengths and associated unique selling points. They have used innovation to provide a compelling alternative to their competitors
and they have started at the point where every customer proposition should – the customer experience and their associated needs. For example, they have identified one of the most common user headaches which is those who carry two different smartphones at
any one time – one for their work (which is still quite often a BlackBerry) and one for personal use. To fix this problem, they have allowed the Z10 to have a split personality whereby work-related emails and business data can be kept separate from personal
emails, Facebook and Twitter feeds. This means the corporate IT department are happy that systems are kept secure and locked down whilst the end-user now only has to carry a single device. Added to this is also some pretty nifty word recognition functionality
which speeds up the typing of emails, texts, etc... which claims to make it the fastest approach in the market (which aligns very nicely to how people use their smartphone most frequently).
Will this lead to a reversal in BlackBerry’s fortunes and see them erode the dominance of Apple and Samsung? In fairness, it’s too early to tell… They should be commended for their new release and approach to differentiate in a marketplace which is heavily
influenced by features and functionality (as well as price of course). They have looked at what they do best, who their target market is and what that audience needs. Hopefully, above all else, they should have learned that they cannot afford to sit on their
progress and let innovation pass them by. Personally, I feel if they are really to compete then they need to develop a wider app community and ensure that their users are not left frustrated at the BB platform not being supported by mainstream brands. Time
will tell if they have done enough but one thing is for sure, their intended audience will vote with their thumbs !!