The 9720 is not going to enhance BlackBerry in the shop window, says Steve McCaskill
Making fun of BlackBerry at present is like kicking a puppy, but the timing of the BB OS 7-powered BlackBerry 9720 announcement couldn’t be any more unfortunate.
Just one day after admitting you are considering putting yourself up for sale is not the best time to reveal you are planning to release a smartphone than runs an aging operating system.
It’s true that BlackBerry’s 9720 is aimed at a very different part of the smartphone market than its BlackBerry 10 handsets. The announcement had probably been in the pipeline for weeks, and surely came out today by pure coincidence. But the very existence of the handset reeks of desperation and highlights the company’s troubled relationship with innovation.
BlackBerry fan service
Boasting a QWERTY keyboard and trackpad with a strong emphasis on BlackBerry Messenger, the 9720 has features that were not enough to arrest the struggling Canadian manufacturer’s decline from smartphone leader to smartphone also-ran, but certainly appeal to loyal users.
But isn’t that what the BlackBerry 10-based Q10 and Q5 smartphones are for? The latter has many of the same features but with a more advanced operating system and will be more appealing to customers in the UK.
As a device for emerging markets, it’s easier to make a case for the BlackBerry 9720, but it has strong competition. The mid-range smartphone market is becoming increasingly croweded and BlackBerry is certainly not alone in releasing a device with modest specifications.
But mid-range Windows Phone handsets will use almost the same operating system as their high-end brethren, devices like the Nokia Lumia 1020. Meanwhile, Nokia itself has its own feature phone operating system for its Asha range.
Even Apple, which has previously catered to the market by discounting its older iPhone models is widely believed to be working on a purpose-built cheaper handset.
To use an older operating system at a critical point in BlackBerry 10’s lifecycle presents a confusing message as it suggests the new platform hasn’t lived up to expectations.
Failure of BlackBerry 10
That is certainly the opinion of many investors in the company who are beginning to doubt that the operating system will engineer a turnaround. CEO Thorsten Heins had pleaded for patience to implement a ‘three stage’ plan to return the firm to profitability, but it now appears patience has worn thin.
It might be rash to write off BlackBerry 10 after such a short period of time, but it has to be evaluated as part of a long term decline that led to yesterday’s unsurprising announcement indicating that the company is for sale.
While a sale is not yet inevitable, Lenovo and Dell have both been mentioned as potential suitors for BlackBerry given their respective difficulties in gaining traction in the smartphone market.
Another scenario could see BlackBerry spin-off its hardware division to focus on software, which remains a relatively lucrative bright spot amid the gloom descending on Waterloo, Ontario. It would be unfair and untrue to suggest that BlackBerry is pinning its hopes on the BlackBerry 9720, but it is symbolic of its current desperation and that would have been true no matter when it was revealed.
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