The long-awaited BlackBerry 10 operating system was launched last week to much fanfare as the smartphone maker attempts an epic comeback.
But, while BlackBerry's new platform has earned a number of positive reviews, the company faces an uphill battle to reverse the market shares losses to Apple and Android phone makers in recent years. According to IDC, BlackBerry's market share fell from 10.4 percent worldwide in 2011 to just 4.6 percent last year.
Does the BlackBerry 10 OS have enough juice to get the company back into the smartphone game? CRN spoke with several solution providers who were cautiously optimistic about BlackBerry's future, citing BB10's strong enterprise functionality and new consumer-oriented features as major improvements for the smartphone platform.
"It's the spark that BlackBerry needs. They were dead in the water without [BB10]," said Steven Kantorowitz, managing director of BTG Mobility in Jericho, N.Y.
BTG Mobility, the mobile division of Breakthrough Technology Group, focuses on smartphone integration and configurations services as well as custom app development for a variety of platforms, including BlackBerry, Apple's iOS and Android. Kantorowitz said he's impressed with BB10 and believes many of the new features and improved functionality will help the company win back some customers who defected to the iPhone or Android devices.
"My financial services customers, for example, love the BlackBerry Balance feature, and the predictive virtual keyboard on the Z10 is great," Kantorowitz said. "The BlackBerry browser has been pretty terrible in the past, but the BB10 browser is a remarkable improvement."
Some partners say they're already seeing a strong uptick in BlackBerry business. Tenet Computer Group, a solution provider based in Toronto, is a longtime BlackBerry partner and was a showcased app developer at the BlackBerry 10 launch event in Toronto. Rick Jordan, Tenet's director of mobility sales, said a large number of customers have already upgraded to the new OS since last week's launch, thanks to the business-focused features like BlackBerry Balance and BlackBerry Hub.
"We obviously have a vested interest in BlackBerry's resurrection," he said. "But we're very excited for BlackBerry 10. I think they've got a real winner."
BlackBerry announced this week that the BlackBerry 10-based Z10 smartphone saw record sales since its launch in Canada. In addition, the company said the Z10 sold nearly three times as well as any other smartphone over its first week. In the U.S., the BlackBerry Z10 is expected to launch sometime next month.
NEXT: BlackBerry's Challenges And Channel Opportunities
Even with the right technology in BB10, solution providers say BlackBerry needs to do more to dig itself out of the hole.
David Felton, CEO and founder of Canaan Technology in Norwalk, Conn., believes BlackBerry needs to overhaul its branding and marketing to better compete with market leaders like Apple and Samsung. "BlackBerry is going to need to aggressively market the product by going head-to-head with the iPhone and Galaxy S III by appealing to consumers, not folks already sporting a BlackBerry under their suit jacket," Felton said.
Then there's the apps factor, which has hurt BlackBerry in the past. While the BlackBerry 10 launched with more than 70,000 apps, which the company said was the largest number of apps at launch for a first-generation OS, the platform is still missing some key applications and lags far behind incumbent platforms iOS and Android in sheer volume of apps available.
Robby Hill, president and CEO of HillSouth in Florence, S.C., thinks this could hurt BlackBerry, especially with the consumer market. "My biggest hope was that the company would wow us with a slew of apps that would make their smartphone get some much needed positive attention or praise," Hill said. "The new BlackBerry OS has some cool features like the unique virtual keyboard and the Timeshift camera, but without an overwhelming amount of apps, I'm worried that there won't be a huge demand for the new platform."
But others believe BlackBerry is making progress on the consumer front. "The ecosystem is what got BlackBerry behind," Tenet said. "They were going after the consumer market, but they didn't have the right mix of features and apps, but now they're getting there."
BlackBerry may have a couple of advantages to overcome the obstacles. First, BlackBerry's Enterprise Service 10 software allows solution providers to manage both BlackBerrys and iOS and Android devices. Hill said the software will help create an easier path for corporate adoption of BlackBerry 10, as interest in mobile device management platforms in the enterprise continues to grow.
"The one clear advantage for the enterprise adopters is the ability of BlackBerry's software to manage non-BlackBerry mobile devices," Hill said. "This really softens the blow of making your best corporate clients upgrade to a new mobile device management software platform to use BlackBerry 10 in their businesses."
A second advantage is BlackBerry's partner base; just as it has a core of loyal "Crackberry" users, the smartphone maker also has a cadre of dedicated solution providers that BlackBerry can lean on to promote BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 as well as develop a strong application ecosystem.
"BlackBerry has always been great to the channel and really supported partners," Kantorowitz said. "Apple has been the opposite, and I think that'll help BlackBerry in the long run."
PUBLISHED FEB. 7, 2013