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Telecom & Commerce Wireless Watch: BlackBerry won’t be a smartphone major again, but BB10 could shine elsewhere
Jan 31, 2013 – Rethink Research  

After a year of build-up, a glitzy launch and more column inches than any mere piece of metal and silicon merits, BlackBerry 10 and its first smartphones made their debut, along with a new company identity (RIM becomes simply BlackBerry). The verdict? An attractive product which three years ago could have enabled RIM to defend its market share against Apple. After all the delays and missteps of recent times, there was a collective sigh of relief that the new smartphones were not embarrassments in the PlayBook category, and a common desire to see a comeback and a new challenge to Apple/Android. But while nobody could fault CEO Thorsten Heins’ team for the efforts they have put in since he took the helm, to win over the key bases of developers, carriers and enterprises, the tests will now be whether those bases convert interest into commercial support, and whether the consumers are won over too.  
 
And the consumer verdict, the one that is hardest to influence or predict before the products are actually on the shelves, will be the most important one if BlackBerry is to revive its fortunes in its traditional markets. The days are gone when it could rely on its corporate base with consumers being the icing on the cake – with BYOD on the rise, most high value users will have a single handset for work and play, and increasingly the ‘play’ aspect determines their smartphone choice. That means providing a smooth and addictive user experience, a host of content and apps, and an appealing brand. BlackBerry has gone some way to deliver these, and has some important differentiators, notably its Balance technology, which supports the trend for its traditional business users to want an all-purpose phone.  
 
But this comes too late, at a time when, in smartphones, the market has solidified around the big two. The platforms which have the potential to disrupt that status quo significantly are those powering new ‘post-PC’ device types, where users are still open to different experiences; and those which reflect entirely new user behavior centered on the cloud – Firefox Mobile is an example, though the real impact of those next generation OS will not be felt for a few years yet. In those two areas, BlackBerry is a no-show. Its PlayBook tablet was a miserable failure and there are no signs of a non-smartphone device running BB10 in the near future. BB10 has some cloud-oriented features which were quite futuristic when RIM first acquired the QNX technology on which the OS is built – but are now fairly standard in mobile devices, and completely outperformed by the upcoming new breed of browser OSs.  
 
In others words, BlackBerry is still playing by the old rules, when the long wait for its new platform demanded that it deliver something truly disruptive if it were to claw back more than a few percentage points of market share (which it probably will, at least temporarily) from the entrenched Android and iOS.  
 
Of course there was excitement about the launch, but while fans and many gadget reviewers applauded, investors were unimpressed and there were too many echoes of similar buzz when Palm launched webOS and the Palm Pre four years ago (and we know how quickly that hype turned to poor sales and an end-of-road acquisition). More recently, the Microsoft/Nokia alliance has had similar challenges in gaining significant share from the big two, despite having – like RIM – a genuinely different user experience and some attractive devices with a few knock-out features (in Nokia’s case, cameras and maps).  
 
Both BlackBerry and Nokia have the advantage of carriers’ desire to see a ‘third way’ flourish against the power of Google and Apple, but the danger is these two firms fight one another for cellcos’ favors while Google plays divide and rule – and while the market, in the meantime, moves on to a new way of thinking about mobile.  
 
The problem for both BlackBerry and Nokia is they are cautiously sticking to their well-trodden paths, majoring on conventional OSs (despite a great deal of innovative cloud technology both in Microsoft and QNX) and on handsets, whereas the major profit and brand growth is to be seen in tablets and other large-screen gadgets. While in the short term, both need a tablet or cloudbook, they also need to stop being obsessed with phones. Several years ago, Nokia’s former CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo banned the use of the word ‘phone’ to describe the company’s devices, wanting to position them as mobile computers and platforms for web services. That was correct and, at the time, forward looking thinking, but Nokia continued just to turn out conventional phones, whatever it chose to call them.  
 
The same applies to BlackBerry, which also needs to put action behind some forward-looking thinking. Heins has often hinted at licensing BB10, and internally, executives admit the most likely partners would not be smartphone makers – with the conflicts of interest that could bring – but those looking for an OS for connected devices. This is where BlackBerry has an advantage it does not appear to be tapping sufficiently quickly, despite statements that it wants to see BB10 in cars and other non-phone systems. QNX has its roots in the auto sector and BlackBerry could steal a march on the ‘fat OSs’ of Google and Apple by targeting segments where no single platform is yet entrenched – from emerging device form factors such as cloudbooks to in-car systems to, eventually, many of the more processing-hungry gadgets on the internet of things.  
 
Heins did say at the launch event: "We have created a platform that is able to work with other machines. We can extend it to devices, to the home, your healthcare system or wherever you are. This is the promise of the BlackBerry 10 platform."  
 
For now, though, BlackBerry needs a conventional handset hit just to survive as a device maker (though we still maintain its best route would be to focus mainly on its back end strengths with platforms like BlackBerry Enterprise Server, newly and effectively tailored for the BYOD world). In smartphones, it is now coming from well behind, and it will be a long way back to a secure future as a device maker.  
 
One or two handsets will not achieve that, and once the dust has settled on the launch, it will take a year or so to know whether the new strategy is enough – and that will require a stream of further good products, including non-phones - only Apple has ever changed the mobile rules with a single device and the new flagship, the Z10, is certainly not different enough to do that (and has many echoes of the iPhone, rather than trying to set its own design norms as Nokia has done with Lumia).  
 
The launch itself was strong. RIM has heard so many times that this was a make-or-break event, and it did rise to the occasion in terms of build-up and the event itself, even springing the surprise of rebranding itself entirely as BlackBerry. The actual unveiling of BB10 and its first supporting smartphones was glitzy and designed to inspire confidence as well as attract headlines. However, the devices, while they certainly brought the vendor back from the doldrums of the PlayBook into the top tier again, were hardly stunning enough to create an instant turnaround, especially with a platform that still needs a lot more maturity and applications. It will be a tough battle to chip away at the Android/iOS axis, and the Z10 and Q10 are respectable first shots, but will need both immediate sales success and rapid follow-ups to keep Apple and Samsung awake at night.  
 
Heins got his ‘Steve Jobs moment’ and showed off the two devices – the all-touch Z10 and the touch/Qwerty Q10 – as well as the new company identity. “We have reinvented this company, and we wanted to reflect this in our brand,” he said.  
 
While gadget blogs will spend many hours mulling over the specs of the two handsets, in reality no set of physical features would ever be enough to set BlackBerry apart from its rivals. The hardware is at the high end of the smartphone segment, but that was a given – only Apple can turn out devices lacking some of the latest hardware and still score a home run. The consensus was that the phones were better than expected from RIM, but not special in the wider scheme of things. CNN Money’s comments that the Z10 was a phone BlackBerry “should have made years ago” and that “everything still feels a generation behind” were typical – rather like a school report awarding points for effort to a middle-scoring student.  
 
The user experience supported by BB10 will be the key, because that is where the differentiation lies, and BlackBerry has the difficult balance to strike between features popular with its base, and new ones to attract the attention of Android or iOS owners. BB10 itself has been much previewed and documented, but it does promise a completely new experience, focusing on people who are “true multitaskers” and “hyperconnectd”, according to Heins. The new user interface is called BlackBerry Flow, whose trademark is that it allows users to scroll seamlessly between apps. BlackBerry Peek allows them to look at another application without leaving the one in use.  
 
The specific services chosen to suggest the delights of the platform beneath were BlackBerry Balance and BlackBerry Hub. The first is genuinely interesting and shows the vendor appealing to the still substantial remnants of its corporate heartland with a feature that enables users to have two separate profiles – work and personal – on one handset, with the corporate IT department able to manage and secure the former. Such capabilities will be essential in the world of BYOD, but nobody has implemented them as smoothly as BlackBerry.  
 
However, Balance requires the new BES10, and that could dull the impact of one of the few really differentiating features of the platform – as many reviewers pointed out, most of the consumer additions, such as the multimedia features in BBM, are just catch-ups with iOS and Android. BlackBerry would not confirm how many BES email hosting providers are planning to support BES10, which was only unveiled this month, and there are still question marks over its charging mechanisms.  
 
The second is geared to the other area where BlackBerry feels it has natural talents, the social networker. While it may have gone too far in pursuing consumers a few years ago, alienating some of its enterprise bedrock, it did attract a large youth following for BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and this has helped build significant bases in large emerging economies, notably Indonesia. The firm has always said its key technology, developed for highly efficient, network-friendly push email, was also well suited to constant social updating and IM. Hub provides integrated contacts and social net support, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – so far so ordinary, but it really lies at the heart of the OS and taps into BlackBerry’s famous messaging. Messages and updates can be read and posted without the need to leave the Hub, and contact information stored in any app can be viewed from one place.  
 
BBM itself has also gained support for voice and video calls, and allows screens to be shared in real time. That is part of a belated push to give BlackBerry a full multimedia makeover – not just the all-touch Z10 itself, but the revamped BlackBerry World app store, have more than an echo of Apple. As the firm announced earlier in the week, it has signed a line-up of major music, film and TV labels to provide content for the store (see inset), as well as conducting a year-long campaign to woo developers, which has resulted in about 70,000 apps at launch.  
 
This is a higher number than many had feared when BB10 was first previewed, to generally lacklustre response – the long wait for the OS will still make BlackBerry’s comeback even more difficult, but it has had the merit of allowing for a gradual and rather effective build-up of support from developers, carriers and enterprises. Interest does not necessarily lead to sales, but the climate surrounding BB10 is certainly more positive than it was even six months ago, for which some credit must go to Hein’s team and its relentless behind-the-scenes efforts to stir support for a new platform.  
 
However, 70,000 is still a small number compared to those of the two juggernauts, and Marty Mallick, VP of global alliances and business development, had to resort to the usual arguments of the minority platforms, also heard at Nokia – users want quality not quantity in app stores, navigation is key, the apps are piling up considering this is a brand new OS. BB10 launches with “more apps by far than any first generation operating system,” he insisted.  
 
The new approach to the UI risks alienating the traditional users, though the firm will continue to support the current OS, and the installed base is becoming is less of an issue as it shrinks – the vendor captured just 4.6% of global smartphone sales in 2012, down from over 10% in 2011, and it is estimated that in the US alone, 11m BlackBerry users switched to other devices between 2009 and mid-2012. However, it does still have 79m users worldwide.  
 
Carrier support has always been a BlackBerry trump card because its devices are kind to the networks. Heins said the Z10 and/or Q10 will have cleared testing with 110 operators by the end of February, though the keyboard device will ship later – the Z10 will be available from today in the UK, one of BlackBerry’s strongholds, followed by its native Canada and the United Arab Emirates in early February.  
 
This somewhat quirky selection of launch markets has none of the mass attack of recent Galaxy and iPhone roll-outs, which betrays some of the continuing competitive weakness at BlackBerry in terms of execution and scale, as well as full-on carrier commitment. Some are certainly waiting to see how the Z10 fares in its first markets before jumping, though all the big four US cellcos are set to launch BB10 products in March, which will be the biggest early proof point of whether the handsets will maintain the profile achieved by the launch build-up, or will by then have receded into the background in the overcrowded smartphone landscape.  
 
The wait for North American shipments was seen as a problem for the US-centric markets. “For the BlackBerry faithful, another month is a long time,” Shaw Wu, an analyst at Sterne Agee, told Bloomberg. “The execution could have been crisper.”  
 
And BlackBerry is sticking to its premium price strategy – in the US, the Z10 will cost $149 to $199 with a two-year contract, above many Android devices which go for $99 or less. The Q10 will not ship until April even though many believe this will be BlackBerry’s sweet spot since its Qwerty keyboard still has many fans, and provides a differentiator that the Z10 does not. “Let’s be honest, if users want a full touch screen, they’re going to go for an Android or an iPhone,” Wu said.  
 
In the end, Z10 and Q10 allow BlackBerry back to the table, but we suspect they will become just two of many smartphone choices very quickly, enough to stabilize but not turn the ship. BlackBerry needs to take three decisions – to sell or license BB10, especially in M2M markets; rapidly to introduce innovative form factors, or plan an exit from devices; and focus its growth on making BES a default back end platform for the multi-device corporation. None of those would be quick decisions, and there is still the possibility of company sale or break-up. In the meantime, BlackBerry has one last chance – a credible but not a terribly high one – to make a comeback and achieve double-digital mobile platform share. As Heins said himself: “Today is not the finish line. It is the starting line.”  
 
Q4 smartphone estimates summarized:  
This is the time when the number crunchers present their estimates of smartphone market performance over the most recent quarter, plus forecast for the year ahead. This is a summary of the main reports:  
 
Smartphone shipments topped 200m in the fourth quarter, according to Juniper Research, and Samsung sold about one-third of the total. For the full year, the total reached 671m, up 42% year-on-year. Samsung sold 63m smartphones in Q412, while Apple was below expectations despite record sales of 47.8m. Nokia shipped 6.6m smart devices, two-thirds of those Lumia handsets.  
 
ABI Research says nearly 200m tablets have shipped since 2009 and an additional one billion will ship over the next five years.  
 
Huawei and ZTE displaced HTC, LG, Nokia and RIM in the smartphone rankings for Q412, according to IDC. Huawei took third place in the rankings, overtaking its compatriot – which has previously been the stronger device player but was in fifth position. Huawei shipped 10.8m smartphones in the quarter and captured 4.9% of the global market, up from 5.7m units and 3.5% in the year-ago period. ZTE shipped 9.5m smartphones to score 4.3% share, up from 6.4m units and 4% a year earlier. Samsung and Apple were the top two, of course, while Sony Mobile was in fourth position with 9.8m units. The full year line-up was somewhat different with Nokia, HTC and RIM still in the top five (in that order after the big two). This shows how significant the second half of the year was to the Chinese upsurge and the sharp decline of the legacy platforms, Symbian and BlackBerry 7.  
 
IDC found that globally, handset vendors shipped 219.4m smartphones in the fourth quarter, which represents 45.5% of all mobile phone shipments, the highest percentage ever. The 36.4% year-on-year growth was slightly below IDC's forecast of 39.5%.  
 
Strategy Analytics found that global smartphone shipments grew 38% to 217m units in Q412 while for the full year, shipments reached a record 700.1m units, up from 490.5m units in 2011.  
Samsung had a 29% share of the smartphone market to Apple's 22% and Nokia's 3% in the fourth quarter. For the year, Samsung boosted its share to 30.4% from 19.9% in the year-ago period while Apple held 19.4% of the market, compared with 19% previously.  
 
It also measured the total handset space, and reported just 2.6% growth in Q412 (IDC’s figure was 1.9% year-on-year). In this broader market, Samsung had 24% share to Nokia's 19% and Apple's 10.6%. out of 451m units shipped in Q4.  
 
IDC had Samsung, Nokia, Apple, ZTE and Huawei, in that order, as the top five handset makers by volume in Q4 and Samsung, Nokia, Apple, ZTE and LG as the top five for the full year.  
 
ABI Research said Samsung shipped 106m handsets in the fourth quarter of which 60m were smartphones and gained 31% smartphone share compared to Apple’s 24.5%. The latter’s  
market share is expected to peak at 22% in 2013, ABI said. Nokia shipped 86.3m handsets and 6.6m smartphones in Q4, while RIM's shipments of smartphones declined to 6.9m. ZTE shipped 20.7m handsets and 11.2m smartphones in the quarter. About 219m smartphones were shipped in the period, accounting for 45% of all mobile phones.  
 
Samsung overtook Apple as the top worldwide semiconductor customer in 2012, according to Gartner. The two firms together bought $45.3bn of semiconductors in 2012, an increase of $7.9bn from 2011, to represent 15% of total demand, while the total market decreased by 3% overall, according to Gartner calculations. Six of the top 10 electronic equipment makers reduced their demand last year because of the weakness in the PC sector – still the largest for chip sales. HP, Dell, Sony, Lenovo, Toshiba, LG, Cisco and Nokia made up the rest of the top 10, with Nokia’s consumption down the most, by 42%.  
 
Content partners announced for BB10  
Two days ahead of the launch of BlackBerry 10, RIM (as it still was then) was whetting users’ appetites with some advance news, in particular about its content partners. It announced a list of multimedia partners for the revamped BlackBerry World app store, which will not feature premium video downloadsand movie rentals.  
 
Video partners include 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate, MGM, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Walt Disney and Warner Bros, while there is TV programming available from ABC Studios, BBC Worldwide, CBC/Radio-Canada, CBS, NBCUniversal and Univision Communications. At launch, video content will be limited to the US, UK and Canadian markets.  
 
This dramatically increases the consumer appeal of BlackBerry World which, in its previous guise as BlackBerry App World, stayed close to RIM’s enterprise roots, with its strengths lying in business software and a ‘quality not quantity’ approach supposed to make up for its relatively low numbers of offerings. But RIM has a significant appeal to young consumers because of its BBM (BlackBerry Messaging) service and the new-look store will have far more to offer them, with a profile closer to Apple’s market leading shopfront.  
 
As well as the film and TV elements, the store will also feature DRM-free music downloads from Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group as well various independent labels like Rough Trade. These downloads will be available in 18 countries at launch. The vendor will reveal content pricing along with its first BB10 devices, due to be unveiled on Wednesday and to ship next month. The new BlackBerry World went live on the web last week.  
 
RIM is also rethinking apps pricing to broaden the appeal of its storefront. There will be new pricing tiers, with the lowest ones coming in at a lower rate, and charges will be kept consistent across the globe by incorporating currency exchange rates and VAT requirements. The dollar, Canadian dollar, Euro and UK pound will be supported first.  
 
Lenovo exploring RIM acquisition?  
Amid the buzz around the BB10 launch, rumors of RIM being acquired subsided for a while, but the relatively strong response to the Z10 may have made it more attractive. Takover talk was stoked up just last week by CEO Thorsten Heins, who said that the firm might be open to selling off its device hardware activities. If so, the current favorite candidate is China’s Lenovo, which may have overtaken Apple in its home smartphone market (and says its handset business is now profitable in China), but has made little impact anywhere else.  
 
Lenovo hopes to use its famous ThinkPad brand to push into the mobile world outside China, but to date its efforts have been about as successful as those of other PC majors seeking to bridge the divide, such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Acer. Lenovo is releasing attractive tablets, cloudbooks and hybrids, but smartphone success remains elusive – hence the reported interest in RIM.  
 
This is more than idle speculation – Lenovo’s CFO Wong Wai Ming admitted, in an interview at this week’s World Economic Forum summit in Davos, that “we are looking at all opportunities - RIM and many others. “We’ll have no hesitation if the right opportunity comes along that could benefit us and shareholders.”  
 
Despite its declining share, RIM would bring the Chinese company expertise in mobile device design and, importantly, in making those devices work efficiently with wireless networks (a RIM speciality). It would also contribute long-standing relationships with carriers and a still-substantial installed base, especially in the US, the enterprise sector and Indonesia. In return, Lenovo could leverage the economies and brand of its huge PC business to try to shift its balance of revenues towards non-PC products.  
 
Lenovo has a team working on possible acquisitions, Wong said, while RIM hired advisers last spring to examine its own strategic options, including sale of all or part of the company. Wong told Bloomberg that his firm has spoken to RIM and its bankers about various combinations or strategic ventures, but did not say when any decision might be made on whether to make a bid.  
 
A Chinese buyer would almost certainly face regulatory review in the US and Canada for a takeover of RIM or a substantial part of it – because of the size of the deal, the prominence of the firm in the Canadian economy, and the fact RIM operates services for government agencies. However, if RIM sold only its device business – an outcome Heins hinted at - all these factors would be less relevant and the network services activities could be retained in Canada.  
 
RIM insists there is no update on its strategic review process and that its first priority is to have a successful launch for BB10 next week – which of course will help to decide how many suitors it might have for any future sale, and the price they might pay.  
 
Wong said Lenovo’s first priority is to grow organically to become a ‘PC-plus’ company with a stake in all the screens at home and at work. However, it has cash reserves of $3.6bn and has not been averse to spending recently – this month it completed the $147m purchase of a Brazilian PC and handset maker, CCE, doubling its share in the high growth country, and in 2011 it made several purchases to boost its scale, including Germany’s Medion and NEC’s PC division.






Courtesy Rethink Research



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