RIM Takes Its Shot At The Buzzer

by , Jan 31, 2013, 7:56 AM
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In the parlance of a grizzled newspaper editor, Research In Motion CEO Thorsten Heins seemingly buried the lede yesterday when he announced, about an hour into his presentation, that the first of the already tardy new BlackBerrys he was touting would not be available in the U.S. until March. Wall Street, frustrated by earlier delays, apparently didn’t buy it. “RIM shares, which were up about 4% when Mr. Heins began introducing the phones, closed the day down 12% at $13.78,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Heins also announced that Research in Motion –- RIM in the stock tables and on second reference in news articles -- would not be known by that name anymore. No, the new name will not be Research in Slow Motion. Thankfully, it’s simply BlackBerry.

“The delay with U.S. carriers is awkward timing for RIM, which will air its first-ever Super Bowl ad on Sunday as part of a plan to spend ‘several hundreds of million’ dollars into marketing around the launch of the two new phones, Mr. Heins said,” the WSJ’s Will Connors, Spencer E. Ante and Thomas Gryta observe. “That means customers in the U.S. won’t be able buy the phone for roughly another six weeks.”

That’s because “we want to make sure that the quality is what people expect, and we’re not willing to compromise on quality, and neither are the carriers,” a RIM spokesman tells the WSJ. “We’re working hard to get through lab testing and to meet those expectations.”

Heins introduced two models -- the touchscreen Z10 and the keyboard-equipped Q10 –- both of which operate on the new BlackBerry 10 OS. All four of the major carriers -- AT&T, Verizon, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile –- will carry at least one of the models.

The WSJ provides a nice 360-degree view of the Z10. You’d be forgiven if you mistook it for a slightly larger iPhone. AP compares the Z10’s specs to the Apple iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III –- presumably its chief competitors-to-be, here.

And guess what? As the Times of India headline succinctly puts it: “BlackBerry10: Fans Rejoice.” But while enthusiasts’ forums were “abuzz,” the articles goes on to say that the phones “generated little enthusiasm from early reviewers,” such as Joshua Topolsky of The Verge and CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt

But neither was damning, either. And on the very bright side, New York Times techie David Pogue, who admits to having been a skeptic about the new BlackBerry, has an entirely different opinion after having the “the “Hail Mary pass … bet-the-farm” Z10 in his hands for a while. 

“It’s lovely, fast and efficient, bristling with fresh, useful ideas,” he writes in what is sure to be an influential review. “And here’s the shocker -- it’s complete. The iPhone, Android and Windows Phone all entered life missing important features. Not this one …”

Some of the niftier features include a program that seems uncanny in its ability to complete words that you type, and gets better the more you use it. There’s also a speech-recognition engine but Pogue says it’s not as accurate as Apple’s Siri, which to some observers amounts to damning with no praise.

The WSJ’s Walt Mossberg, another influential voice, “liked some things a lot” after a week of testing the Z10 but, contrary to Pogue, he feels there are also “missing or lagging features.” 

“Fervent BlackBerry fans might shun the Z10 for its lack of a physical keyboard, while fervent iPhone and Android fans might shun it for its small selection of apps and lack of native cloud services,” Mossberg writes.

“One of the most important comments during a Q&A after the main event was by Frank Boulben, chief marketing officer,” opines Network World’s John Cox. Boulben was asked how the new devices would appeal to existing or first-time smartphone users.

“We’ve done extensive market research [of end users],” he replied, and it identified “hyperconnected” and “multitaskers.” That’s about one-third of the entire market, Boulben estimates, which would be a good at-work audience if they can get it. 

“Most of my colleagues have written off the BlackBerry 10 launch as too little, too late and are concluding that the company has one foot in the grave and the other perilously close to a slippery bar of soap,” writes Dennis Howlett, a 40-year veteran of enterprise IT, on ZDNet. “I’ll take a contrarian view.”

Howlett points out that BlackBerry still has one big thing going for it: Market share. At least 25% of the pie in enterprises with more than 10,000 people, he estimates. And some very devoted, high-powered users figure into that slice of the pie.

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