How the Z10 Changes BlackBerry’s Future Prospects. Or Not.

Photo credit: Andrew Cunningham, via Ars Technica

American tech media is one vast echo chamber and this was in evidence once again this week. The big news this week – other than the security breaches at notables like The Washington Post, The NY Times and Twitter – was BlackBerry’s launch of the Z10. What tech blogs largely failed to cover was that BlackBerry is not in fact relying on the U.S. market and is not even launching in the U.S. for another month. The new devices were launched in the U.K. first, ahead of the home market in Canada, as the U.K. is the biggest market for BlackBerry with a 12% market share (vs. Apple’s 25%), as opposed to the U.S. where it has a 2% market share (vs. Apple’s 33% per latest estimates).

That said, I happened to test drive the Z10 this week and was blown away by two features:

  • Predictive typing: as the user types, small word suggestions appear as you progress through each letter of the word. I thought this feature is a lot slicker than anything the iPhone offers now. You can also swipe from right to left to delete the last (entered) word swipe down to toggle between letters and digits.
  • Camera: while the camera is your basic point and shoot, what makes it unique is the ability to shoot a series of frames and then select the best of them, based on a single element in the picture. For example lets say you’re out with a bunch of people celebrating a friend’s birthday; the Z10′s camera feature will let you select the best picture based on just how your friend looks in all the frames, and share it with the group. I thought that was pretty cool as group pictures are my personal nemesis.
The Z10 doesn’t have great battery life, but neither do most other smartphones. While many tech critics call the 70,000 apps ‘mediocre’, I suspect most users care more about usability straight out of the gate. The device meets most standards set by other smartphones, exceeds some and is based on an awesome OS, which has traditionally been BlackBerry’s biggest strength. Given all this, I suspect the eventual success of the device (and BlackBerry’s future, coincidentally) will come down to three things:
  1. Marketing: BlackBerry has tremendous cash reserves and probably the marketing budget to promote the device but the company formerly know as RIM has never been a savvy marketer. Samsung blew us away with their marketing, can BlackBerry?
  2. Non-US markets: The U.S.smartphone market is saturated but there is still considerable upside in developing markets. As a plus, BlackBerry is very popular in the UK and UK carriers tend to be bigger global players than US carriers.
  3. Will the device be able to attract more apps down the road? It launches with 70,000 apps, much less than the 750,000 apps that iPhones and Android phones boast, and is not compatible with older BlackBerry apps.
So while BlackBerry’s doom is no longer assured, neither is the company’s success. That said, I am ever a sucker for the underdog so you know who I’m rooting for :-)