BlackBerry 10 is coming later today. If RIM's new operating system succeeds, it'll be the biggest comeback story mobile tech has ever seen. BlackBerry was once a mighty name, but it has crumbled in the US and elsewhere. RIM’s OS has slumped to just a 6.4 per cent market share in the UK (according to Kantar Worldpanel Comtech), and a pitiful 1.1 per cent in the States.
No other first-generation smartphone leader has been able to pull off this kind of rebirth. Palm and Symbian are dead and Microsoft is struggling. But RIM has a chance to carve out its own market with the launch of BlackBerry 10. In descending order of importance, here are the six things I think RIM needs to pull off a successful comeback.
BlackBerry 10 can't just be good: It needs to explain why people should buy it rather than the safer, more dominant Android and Apple operating systems. What's so different and compelling about BlackBerry 10 that you're willing to give up having the same phone as your family and friends? If the OS is too strange, it'll scare people, but if it isn't different enough, buyers may decide that they can get a similar experience from bigger players.
2. The top 100 iOS apps, every month
RIM has been doing a good job of nurturing small developers with its BlackBerry Jam events, but small, exclusive apps aren't why people buy a new platform. BlackBerry OS needs to have the top iOS apps that are most talked about, and it needs to have them every month. That means securing the full cooperation of a limited group of big-time developers.
As Windows Phone has found, people don't want "Where's My Hydrogen Oxide," even if the gameplay is the same as "Where's My Water." They want the brand-name app their friends have, and they don't want to feel like they're giving anything up.
3. Nearly immediate availability
RIM will have a lot of buzz in the next few weeks. It needs to capitalise on that with phones in the stores, immediately, on as many carriers as possible. The company has waited a very long time to introduce BlackBerry 10, and hopefully it waited until the right carrier deals are in place. RIM doesn't want to be HP/Palm or Motorola, both of which bled away a lot of goodwill with very long delays between device announcements and availability.
4. A wicked portrait QWERTY
The number one thing existing BlackBerry owners ask me about the new phones is: "How's the keyboard?" When they hear that the Z10 is supposed to have no hardware keyboard, they're baffled. RIM needs to make sure that a physical keyboard toting device – the X10 model we’ve been hearing about – is out there right away alongside the Z10. While hardware keyboard lovers are a niche market, they're very over-represented among the kinds of messaging-focused multi-taskers that RIM is targeting. The most beloved BlackBerry hasn't been the Storm; it's the Bolds and Curves that people are still hanging on to.
5. On-going carrier promotion
Windows Phone 7 suffered from a burst of promotion at launch time, followed by steadily flagging carrier and developer interest. RIM needs to get all the major networks on board, and it must ensure all of those carriers maintain their focus beyond the first few months. RIM needs the carriers to still be promoting BlackBerry 10 when the iPhone 6 comes out. The first year of a new OS is like pushing a heavy rock up a hill: If you stop pushing at any point, it'll start rolling back down.
Give free BlackBerry X10s (or whatever the QWERTY model will be called) to the CEOs of major enterprises, with VIP tech support. BlackBerry has been losing ground in the enterprise to phones seen as sexier, more fun, and easier to use. RIM needs to reclaim business not just by selling BlackBerrys on their manageability, but making it clear that this is the phone you use to get things done. The BlackBerry Bold hit its height in 2009 because it made the iPhone look like a toy. The next BlackBerry should do the same. For more on BlackBerry regaining its standing with the enterprise world, see our article here.