Struggling smartphone maker Research In Motion (RIM) announced this week that it's changing its corporate name to BlackBerry. Additionally, the firm will launch two new BlackBerry 10 smartphones in the months ahead, one completely touch-based and one with a traditional keyboard.
The moves amount to a last-ditch effort to save the company, which has hemorrhaged market share for years. According to IDC, BlackBerry handsets now account for less than 5 percent of smartphone sales, a far cry from the platform’s glory days atop the market.
“We have definitely been on a journey of transformation,” RIM/BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins said Wednesday. “Today is not the finish line. It's the starting line.”
That’s an understandably glass-half-full rationalization, but RIM/BlackBerry hasn’t exactly moved quickly to that starting line: Apple released its first iPhone in 2007, a full six years ago. Even slow-moving Microsoft announced its own iPhone alternative, Windows Phone, fully three years earlier at Mobile World Congress in early 2010. (In fact, Windows Phone market share will likely surpass that of BlackBerry sometime in 2013.)
This week, after years of delays and the botched launch of a tablet that has generated absolutely no sales at all, RIM/BlackBerry is finally ready to release two smartphones based on its new platform, BlackBerry 10. Well, sort of. The touch-based model, the BlackBerry Z10, which resembles an iPhone, won’t ship in the United States until March on “some carriers,” while the other model will trail that date by at least a month; that said, both will be available in select international markets more quickly.
In a bid to bolster confidence in the new platform, BlackBerry claims there are somehow already 70,000 BlackBerry 10 apps. That is a bit of a stretch: Most of those apps are in fact Android apps, which can run on BlackBerry 10 using a wrapper, or web apps. But in a market in which apps availability is the difference between relevance and irrelevance, that’s a big number. Windows Phone only recently passed the 120,000-app milestone, and it still trails Android and iOS by wide margins.
RIM/BlackBerry also points to its user base, still 79 million strong, as proof that it has a chance to succeed. And while I suspect that most of those users are not BlackBerry fans per se, and are rather being forced by employers to use those devices, the platform certainly has its backers. The trick is going to be convincing consumers—as well as businesses and governments—to adopt the new platform over industry favorites Android and iPhone. That’s a tall order.
See also: RIM Reached Out to Developers with Promise of BlackBerry 10 (September 26, 2012)