On Wednesday, Research In Motion announced two new smart phones as well as a formal company name change to BlackBerry. The phone was expected, of course, but the name change was a surprise. It makes sense, though, since most people know BlackBerry but not RIM.
The new phones are the Z10 and the Q10. The Z10 is the touchscreen version, while the Q10 offers touch as well as the traditional BlackBerry keyboard for those loyal CrackBerry fans (see the figure). The Z10 is designed to compete in the hot high-end smart-phone market against the Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Nokia Lumia, and others. It certainly has all the prerequisite features and specifications. How well it will do in this tough marketplace remains to be seen.
The Z10 looks like an iPhone but is a bit wider, longer, and heavier. It’s smaller than some of the competitive Samsung models. Its screen is 4.2 inches with a resolution of 1280 by 768 or 356 pixels per inch. The rear camera is an 8-Mpixel unit with some unique features. The front camera has a resolution of 2 Mpixels.
Also, the Z10 has all the usual smart-phone features like a 1.5-GHz dual-core processor with 2 Mbytes of RAM and 16 Gbytes of flash memory. Expanded memory is available in the form of a microSD memory card under the battery with upwards of 64 Gbytes of extra space. And unlike other phones, it offers a micro HDMI port for connection to an HDTV set and a USB 2.0 port for use in charging and data synchronization. An 1800-mAH battery provides 10 hours of talk and 13 days of standby time.
As for wireless functions, the Z10 is fully 4G LTE compatible with fallback to 3G HSPA+ as well as Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n. It can be used as a hot spot too. The phone also includes Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS with the BlackBerry maps application. Near-field communications (NFC) is standard as well, something that the iPhone and many others do not have yet.
While the new BlackBerry offerings are fully competitive hardware-wise, it is the software that really distinguishes them. This is pretty much true for all smart phones today with their commodity multicore processors, big touchscreens, cameras, LTE, and other wireless features. They are all on par with one another. The uniqueness of the phone comes from its software and user interface (UI) as well as the number of apps available.
BlackBerry started from scratch OS-wise and came up with an excellent UI that really distinguishes the Z10 from the competition. Known as BB10, the OS is fully touch-based and features one of the best keyboards around. It has word anticipation and completion and automatic error correction that make one-finger typing faster.
Unique to the BB10 OS are the swipe maneuvers that are used to go from one app to the next. During the company’s demonstration, it looked like most operations, including typing, were performed with one hand and the thumb. Some of the swipe movements appear tricky but are probably easily learned. BB10 is also set up so the phone can serve both personal and work situations. It keeps work applications and personal business separate, but users can easily move between them with swipe movements.
All the major U.S. wireless providers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon—will carry the Z10. It can be ordered now, but it won’t be delivered until sometime in March. Pricing is expected to be $199 with a two-year contract. Some carriers may offer special deals. The Q10 won’t be available until April.
Is the Z10 competitive? I say yes, but who can tell? It is at least an equal to the current crop of iPhones, Galaxys, and others, but will consumers and companies buy it? So much depends on image, cachet, and number of apps offered. While the iPhone and Galaxy phones have as many as 700,000 to 800,000 apps, the Z10 is only offering 70,000 to start. That is pretty good for a totally new OS, and more are promised. This may hurt BlackBerry in the beginning, though.
One thing BlackBerry has done to help marketing is the hiring of well-known singer Alicia Keys as its global creative director. Keys will help build the brand and popularize the phones with consumers and business.
BlackBerry has always been a good brand with a great reputation, and for a while it was the leading smart phone. The company lost its way but has now found it again with the Z10. Maybe it can build its market share back up from the few percent it has today to reclaim a leading position, but it won’t be easy.