Too Much, Too Late? Blackberry Shows Super Social 9720
BlackBerry's Tuesday announcement of its new BlackBerry 9720 smartphone has observers scratching their heads. What is it about marketing and timing that the company does not get? The unveiling comes a day after the Canadian phone maker said it might put itself up for sale or enter into joint ventures.
If the company is exploring strategic alternatives, where does that leave the consumer also exploring smartphone alternatives to replacing old handsets?
The other scalp-tickler is that the new phone carries the older operating system, version 7 and not the newer BlackBerry 10. The new phone will carry BlackBerry 7.1, a refreshed version of the 7.0, now with an interface that lets you swipe to unlock the phone or access the camera from the lock screen.
Why not BlackBerry 10? Guesses outside BlackBerry have been that the BlackBerry 10 OS did not ring any loud bells in the marketplace, up against high-end Android and iOS. Not only that, but 7.0 was better known.
Ah, the Keyboard
The one area where vintage can be leveraged, however, is the keyboard, once the signature feature of the BlackBerry in its heyday.
The 9720 may have a tiny screen but it also has that in-your-face keyboard staring back at you, for easy typing.
Other features in the BlackBerry 9720 include its five color options of black, white, blue, purple and pink, rear-facing camera, a small 2.8-inch touchscreen with 480 x 360 pixel resolution, single-core 806MHz processor, and Share Right from Camera feature, where one touch lets you send photos to social networks or individuals via email, FM radio, 512MB of RAM, and removable battery with seven hours of talk time.
While the timing of the announcement of the BlackBerry 9720 may seem an odd move, the company is betting on a three-letter acronym -- BBM. That stands for its BlackBerry Messenger application -- and in many countries, messaging is simply where smartphone growth is at.
The 9720 will start shipping in the coming weeks across Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, places where BBM, not the operating system, is important.
The BlackBerry, with its BlackBerry Messenger, has shown impressive market strength in Nigerian and other key African markets, for example, over the past few years.
The keypad has a dedicated BBM key. Pressing the button once takes you straight through to all your BBM conversations.
In addition to texting, users can speak to contacts for free over Wi-Fi with BBM Voice. We are not just talking teenagers deciding where to meet, but farm owners trying to reach dozens of partners in vast tracts where land lines are not always dependable.
Timing Will Tell
BBM may be the ticket for this BlackBerry newbie more than the other features. Also, users can write messages once and post them simultaneously on BBM, Twitter and Facebook. Nonetheless, even with BBM, BlackBerry will have to face some stiff competition.
Nothing in the competitive landscape of the smartphone is a given. For example, commenting this week on other news, Tero Kuittinen of Forbes said that Android and iOS versions of BBM are to launch within weeks.
"But what makes the timing of the BBM cross-platform launch so perilous is the fact that it is happening 18-24 months too late," said Kuittinen, who spent eight years doing sell-side equity research on Wall Street.
A BlackBerry grip on the African and Asian messaging markets is not a given, with new competition from rival chat and messaging platforms. If the lure of special software fades, then there is no sure guarantee that the hardware will not suffer, too.
BlackBerry did not disclose plans for U.S. availability of the 9720. BlackBerry has struggled to regain footing in the U.S smartphone market, losing customers to the iPhone and Android devices.