Can a name change and a new phone revive Blackberry’s fortunes?

Words by Kent Fenwick

BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion, or RIM) must have had football on its mind as it threw a “Hail Mary” pass deep into the consumer’s field on the Wednesday before the Super Bowl. Now the question is: will someone catch it or is going to fall short of the end zone?

BlackBerry’s announcement of the highly anticipated BlackBerry 10 operating system and a new line of phones (the Z10, for example) got the tech world buzzing and has shifted the focus from Apple and Google.

BlackBerry stepped up and provided all of the modern hardware you would expect from a 2013 smartphone: a 2.2-inch screen, 2 GB of RAM (with an expandable SD slot), an 8 MP camera, GPS, accelerometer and much more. It looks a lot like the iPhone 5 with its polished glass finish.

But the real highlight of the Z10 is the software. With the BB10 operating system, BlackBerry has finally stepped into the arena and can compete with iPhone and Android. They went out on a limb and added a lot of custom interaction to separate themselves from Android and iOS, though many early reviews are saying they may have strayed a bit too far and that some of it can get confusing.

BlackBerry is known for its messaging, and the Z10 features two pretty neat additions. The first is the unified inbox that allows users to manage their email, Facebook, Twitter, BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) and text messages all in one place. Secondly, it allows you to easily separate your work and home lives by setting up two profiles on the device through a feature called BlackBerry Balance. You can switch between them with a button—no more carrying around two phones!

BBM also got a huge upgrade called BBM Voice, which allows users to perform voice calls to each other for free (great for long distance) and even lets them share screens. This could be a godsend for tech support in big companies; no need to describe tech problems when IT can see exactly what’s on the other user’s screen.

Apps and Ecosystem
What separates iOS and Android from BB10 is the apps and the developer ecosystem. The Z10 launched with over 70,000 apps, but many users are commenting on the lack of quality and polish of these native apps. The Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other official BlackBerry-sanctioned applications are amazing, but many more are lacklustre. However, BlackBerry confirmed that companies like EA and Gameloft (two of the largest iOS and Android application developers) have long-term commitments to developing games and applications for BB10. So apps are in the works, but just weren’t ready in time for launch. This is a fantastic sign for BlackBerry, as it means other developers will come.

The big surprise was the reveal of a second device, the Q10. What makes it such a surprise is that it has a physical keyboard! In this age of virtual keys and glass-like phones, BlackBerry stuck to its roots and delivered something that many purists were hoping for but feared wasn’t to be. I’ve got to hand it to BlackBerry; it shows that they know who they are and are catering to their faithful.

Should You Buy This?
It’s no secret that I’m an Apple fan, therefore I won’t be picking it up. But if you love your BlackBerry and have been holding off to see what comes next, then yes, absolutely you should get this. And if you long for a tactile keyboard, then hold off a little longer until April and pick up the Q10.

Is this a Resurrection for BlackBerry?
It’s too early to say, but things are not looking good for RIM. Q1 2013 sales of the Z10 have been 17 percent of what analysts initially anticipated, and that’s not good. I wonder whether they should have waited until the Q10 was ready and played to the BlackBerry loyalists (I know a few people who are holding out for that magical keyboard). Google, Apple and Microsoft have now had time to innovate while BlackBerry has been playing catch-up. I predict that unless the Q10 wins over all the business and Waterloo die-hards, BlackBerry won’t last the year.