Tech & Communications

A hit or miss for Blackberry?

by  — 8 March 2013

For years the word smartphone was synonymous with BlackBerry devices, a darling of both the enterprise and consumer markets. But it has seen steady decline over the recent years, with revenues down seven percent from last year.

Thorston Heins, CEO of BlackBerry at the BB Z 10 launch, since taking over in January 2012 has implemented restructuring programmes by cutting jobs and rebranding the organisation in an attempt to restore the phone maker to its former position. (Image courtesy BlackBerry)

Ever since the Apple iPhone, and Android enabled devices entered the market, they have relentlessly cut into the smartphone market share BlackBerry once dominated. Together the two shared 90 percent of smartphone sales in 2012 according to Strategy Analytics, a market research firm. So when the new BlackBerry Z 10 (BB10), after much delay was launched worldwide, and not long after - early February - in Qatar, the question became, would this second chance redeem BlackBerry?  The new BB10 is without a doubt a solid smartphone, and a vast improvement over its previous foray into touch screen hardware. Both its hardware and operating system have been received well by industry experts. The developers have astutely catered to enterprise customers, with features such as BlackBerry Balance that secures and separates work content from the personal. In an attempt to court Middle Eastern customers, Blackberry had worked with developers across the region to have locally relevant applications on launch. At the Qatar launch numerous local and regional developers presented their native versions of their applications. Qatar Airways, Al Jazeera (both in English and Arabic) and Anghami a digital music app featuring arabic music were among some of the showcased. However, key communications applications such as Skype and WhatsApp  are as yet missing from the new operating system.
(Update: WhatsApp is available on the BB10 as of March 2013)

But a solid smartphone alone does not necessarily translate into a profitable venture. The litmus test for BlackBerry will be whether they can wrestle away users from the other major smartphone makers. Indeed, it has been a long time since BlackBerry released a new device, but there have been numerous missteps including the fact that the new BB10 will only launch in United States markets in mid-March or later. This coincides with the new Samsung Galaxy that is also set to be released in March, which has lead to a downward revision of predicted BlackBerry sales figures.

However, it is noteworthy to point out that BlackBerry still has around 80 million subscribers worldwide, and while it has steadily lost market share in other parts of the world, it is still popular in the Middle East. A recent survey by YouGov, an online market research firm showed eight percent of respondents were extremely likely to purchase the new phone, while 30 percent said they were somewhat likely to do so.  Sandeep Saihgal, managing director for BlackBerry in the Middle East was quoted early last year as saying the company has seen year-on-year growth of 119 percent. 

Whether BlackBerry will regain its market share in the world remains to be seen, but the Middle East has shown to be one of its primary markets and is likely to stay so.

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