Is BlackBerry 10 the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end?

Analysis by Patrick Avenell

Research In Motion has achieved what it always wanted: anticipation for its BlackBerry 10 launch this Thursday morning matches that of an Apple launch and outstrips any press event by Samsung, Nokia or Motorola.

RIM has craved this level of feverish anticipation and speculation ever since it threw off the chains of enterprise and embarked on a heretofore potholed venture into the consumer market. The Canadian company would love to be arriving at the launch in New York on the back of record highs instead of phenomenal losses, but its long-awaited “last roll of the dice” is at least proof that to gain traction in the modern media, you need to be either very successful or a complete failure, and BlackBerry is becoming accustomed to both.

After so many years of bloodletting, a return to middle-ground mediocrity would provide welcome respite for RIM. While they cannot hope to match the vertiginous dominance of Apple or Samsung with one press conference, two handsets and a renamed software store (BlackBerry App World is now just BlackBerry World), it can sink to the irrelevance of a benthic existence beneath Windows Phone 8 should CEO Thorsten Heins unveil a squib.

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Over the past week, RIM has been releasing advance news on BlackBerry 10: “Enterprise Service 10 Now Available for Download”, “Workplace Apps Ready for BlackBerry 10” and “New BlackBerry World for BlackBerry 10 to Include Extensive Catalogue of Songs, Latest Movies and TV shows”.

While the first two are more important for RIM’s core enterprise competency, it is the third one which is most important for its growth in the consumer market. The BlackBerry has struggled to attract the hip young things in a world that values trendy games, multimedia expertise and social media ahead of traditional phone functionality. Every smartphone has email these days but I’ve never seen anyone play The Walking Dead on a BlackBerry.

The new BlackBerry World will resemble iTunes in that music, movies, TV shows and apps will all coexist together. Precise details on how broad RIM’s offering will be are not yet clear, though the company promises
“one of the most robust catalogues” in the world. This is a vast improvement on the incomprehensible BlackBerry Music sharing program offered as an alternative to unlimited music streaming services in 2010.

According to Gartner, smartphones running Windows operating systems will be almost 10 times more popular than BlackBerrys by 2016 — a massive turnaround from 2010 when RIM outsold Microsoft’s old Windows smartphone operating system by 4-to-1.

Gartner’s projection for 2013 is that RIM will sell around 31 million BlackBerrys, 13 million behind the various Windows Phone 8 handsets and 150 million units behind the iPhone. The plethora of Android devices is so far in front — 700 million projected sales — that BlackBerry’s goal of consumer market domination is now fairytale.

For RIM to disprove Gartner’s forecast and overcome Windows to third place, it needs an operating system with flawless security to reaffirm the commitment of its existing enterprise clients, truly great handsets to make professionals ask for it instead of a rival device and a comprehensive media and application offering that at least eclipses Microsoft’s.

On recent form, the first is almost a certainty, the second is likely but the third still seems far-fetched.

Research In Motion’s Australian office has been invited to answer questions regarding the upcoming launch and its business in general.

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