When Research in Motion (RIM) executives took to the mic to serenade their developers in a sleek music video, it was a moment that either betrayed their desperation, or showed a brave appeal to trust the Blackberry maker despite its evaporating market share.
Thankfully, the three-minute remake of REO Speedwagon’s Keep on Loving You, shown at a developer show in the United States on Wednesday, was not as cringe-worthy as one might imagine (lyrics included “We’ll have Blackberry 10, both in full touch and Qwerty editions”).
Yet, a huge question mark hangs over the upcoming operating system, which will finally bring Blackberry devices up to speed with rivals like iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Has it come too late?
Though the company unveiled a prototype running BB 10, called Dev Alpha B, clearly things are still deep in development. The software and handset had originally been targeted for launch late this year, but is now delayed to early next year.
At the Blackberry Jam Americas event, RIM gave a quick preview of BB 10 and an experience called Flow, which it claims makes it easy to navigate through daily tasks like e-mail, calendaring and looking up contacts. Here’s a video to explain that.
RIM also showed off its new browser, which looks fast and comes with a sneak peek for users before swapping between menus and other tabs. Again, RIM’s corporate blog offers a quick look at this.
The difficult question for RIM is whether these offerings will merely provide the “hygiene” or base level features that users have become so used to on their iOS, Android or even Windows Phone devices.
If there is nothing innovative, either in the design of new handsets or the software that powers them, then RIM will find BB 10 a tough sell to users who have already migrated away in the past few years.
According to research firm IDC, RIM sold only 7.4 million handsets in the second quarter of 2012, seeing its smartphone market share plummet from 11.5 per cent in the same period in 2011 to just 4.8 per cent this year.
Market leader Android, in comparison, was boosted by sales of 104.8 million devices and grabbed 68.1 per cent of the market, up from 46.9 per cent a year ago. Apple was second with 16 million iPhones sold and had slightly less share with 16.9 per cent, down from 18.8 per cent the year before.
The only OS that fared worse was Symbian, the somewhat abandoned software used mostly by Nokia, that lost share from 16.9 per cent to 4.4 per cent. Even Microsoft’s revamped Windows Phone was on the up, if starting from a small base – it sneaked up from a small 2.3 per cent share of the market to 3.5 per cent.
What do these numbers tell us? It’s possible that Android has grabbed most of the new adopters of smartphones as well as those who have junked their Symbian or Blackberry devices. Even Windows Phone can take comfort in turning around a decline that has lasted the past few years.
And RIM? Its drastic decline can only be arrested with a really spectacular launch early next year. Yet, by then, with the iPhone 5 and upcoming Android devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 in stores, the Blackberry could look very dated and really out of the game.
The other thing RIM has to do, as its execs knew, is to keep the apps coming on the new platform. It’s a game of ecosystems now and those so late to the table have it hard even if they have got great hardware and software – just ask Microsoft.
This is where markets like Indonesia are key. Where there is a huge, loyal Blackberry following, RIM has to consolidate its strength – Apple similarly wards off Android by coming up with familiar if less spectacular iPhones for its existing users.
Should developers and users junk Blackberrys en masse in these markets, RIM could find it really hard to emerge from the abyss. If its market share falls below 3 per cent in 2013, it may reach a point of no return. No amount of singing then will keep developers interested in making apps for a dying system.