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Blackberry Confirms Niche Status With Keyboard Focused Smartphones in 2014

Jan 9 2014, 6:46am CST | by

Blackberry Confirms Niche Status With Keyboard Focused Smartphones in 2014
Photo Credit: Forbes

As 2013 opened, BlackBerry was ready to take on the world with a new operating system, a new touch-screen based OS, and a range of smartphones that would appeal to every market segment. Unfortunately for the smartphone manufacturer, 2013 didn’t go according to plan, and BlackBerry has stumbled into 2014. But with a renewed focus, a new CEO, and a realistic look at the market, BlackBerry could have a healthier 2014.

One thing that gives BlackBerry hope is their new focus and direction. Speaking to Jon Erlichman of Bloomberg Television at CES, CEO John Chen indicated that the majority of BlackBerry’s smartphones in the future will have physical keyboards.

Focusing on BlackBerry’s historical strength is a smart decision for Chen. BlackBerry’s smartphone focus during 2013 looked to cover as many bases as possible, and with the BB10 OS making its first smartphone appearance in the all-touch BlackBerry Z10 the marketing message become confused. The Z10 was a new paradigm for a touch-screen device, it struggled to build a significant App Store, Android support was present but not Google Play, and BlackBerry’s loyal fan-base waited for the keyboard based Q10.

The Z10 didn’t sell and BlackBerry’s shot at being one of ‘The Big Three’ slipped away.

That’s not to say that BlackBerry was finished, but neither was the future clear. Taking stock of the situation and being realistic on what BlackBerry could deliver to the market (and how the market would react) was vital. After the sale of BlackBerry to a private consortium fell through, the Board regrouped on strategy and asked John Chen to take the CEO role as an interim measure.

That role has, quietly, been made permanent, and Chen’s decision to ‘go with the keyboard’ is probably the smartest thing to do. Not only does it give a clear direction (and a unique selling point), it is realistic about BlackBerry’s place in the market. With the best will in the world, the Canadian company is not going to flight the Android and iOS installed base. Their competition is Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8. I don’t see BlackBerry’s limited reserves being able to stand up to Microsoft and whatever in-house from the Nokia Lumia team takes. BlackBerry in 2014 by their very definition are going to be niche players and if they can finish the year with a 5% market share in their core territories, that should be seen as a success.

Acknowledging that they are and will remain a niche play will play to BlackBerry’s strengths.

A physical keyboard on a smartphone is not something the mainstream market is looking for, but there are communities where such as device is seen as ‘a really neat idea.’ BlackBerry can market the new devices directly to them and not worry about comparisons to the latest Samsung Galaxy or Apple iPhone; they can focus on their Enterprise links and good standing as a supplier to government agencies (especially in the US); and by partnering with Foxconn to outsource the manufacturing and design elements of their handsets they can maintain competency in modern handset design without having to finance a large hardware office inside the company.

The goals for BlackBerry in 2014 are clear: Aim for a five percent market share, focus on keyboard based smartphones, look to corporate sales for income. And make sure all of this is communicated clearly to shareholders and supporters. It might not be the future that BlackBerry fans hoped for as 2013 dawned, but it is a future.

Source: Forbes

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