The comeback trail continues in earnest for one of the biggest names in mobile this afternoon, as BlackBerry (the company formerly known as RIM) embarks on its annual conference, BlackBerry Live (the event formerly known as BlackBerry World).
All the rebranding is significant. Recent years have been hard on BlackBerry with fickle consumers and commentators turning their backs on the Canadian manufacturer as its handsets became superseded by flashier smartphones from Android and Apple.
Reports of financial woe and perpetual delays to the BlackBerry 10 platform made “2013 is make-or-break for BlackBerry” one of the tech media’s favourite clichés, but in terms of the company’s reputation, it probably is. Generally favourable reviews of the new BB10 OS and the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10 handsets running it have made for a positive few months for the firm, and this week’s BlackBerry Live conference gives Thorstein Heins and co a chance to sustain the momentum.
So what will happen at BlackBerry Live? Well there hasn’t been excessive fanfare leading up to the event in Orlando, Florida, so don’t expect the arrival of a new high-end flagship sitting alongside the Z10 and Q10. Nevertheless, the execs up on stage risk drawing ire they can ill-afford if they go through the motions with nothing to launch at all, so the rumoured BlackBerry R10 – a mid-range phone sporting the physical QWERTY keyboard like the Q10 – could well be unveiled.
Apparent leaked images of the phone (above) emerged last week, with those in the know claiming the R10 will feature a 3.1in display with 720p resolution, a 5-megapixel camera, 8GB of internal storage, 2GB RAM, and a 1,800 mAh battery. I.e. a capable if unspectacular handset to broaden BB10’s reach across lower levels of the smartphone market.
Is the comeback really on?
Pointing out BlackBerry's “generally favourable reviews,” as mentioned above, does little to create a concrete picture of how BB10 is really doing, and if the company is to reassure investors, developers and the wider tech world that it is a force to be reckoned with once again, Heins will need to give us some hard facts. How many units has the Z10 shifted? What are the Q10’s early sales figures? Which headline apps are on the way for the BlackBerry World store? What are the forecasts for the year ahead?
Good news in these areas will certainly add some weight to the notion the BlackBerry ship has steadied. Though the company’s earning’s report in March saw operating profits rise to £62 million, it also showed BlackBerry subscribers had actually fallen by three million from the last quarter, and that only a sixth of BlackBerry handsets shipped in Q1 were the new Z10. Figures demonstrating BB10 has genuinely given the firm a new lease of life and that the company is no longer relying on low-price older models will do much to restore confidence.
A fortnight ago, Heins caused a considerable stir by predicting that the tablet could be dead in just five years – defying the rampant popularity of iPads and Android slates all over the world. "I don't think there'll be a reason to have a tablet anymore,” the CEO said. Maybe a big screen in your workspace, but not a tablet as such. Tablets themselves are not a good business model."
So what of the PlayBook? Will there be a refreshed model hitting shelves soon to take on the market leaders? And if there is, how seriously will we take a product that has been deemed surplus to requirements by the leader of its manufacturer? Heins may have some explaining to do in this area today.
Unless, that is, his confidence is so great in the new mobile line that BlackBerry tablets can indeed be thrown on the scrap heap. "In five years, I see Blackberry to be the absolute leader in mobile computing, that's what we're aiming for,” Heins added in the same interview in April. “I want to gain as much market share as I can, but not by being a copycat."
How BlackBerry will achieve this, and the answers to all the other questions outlined here will hopefully become clear this afternoon. Stay on ITProPortal as we track proceedings live.