BlackBerry’s U.S. debut less than inspiring

Mar 25, 2013 | Biz/Tech

The new BlackBerry Z10.

The new BlackBerry Z10.

By Amber Daugherty

The future of Canada’s BlackBerry looks uncertain right now, tech experts are saying, despite months of anticipation for the launch of its newest devices – the Z10 and the Q10.

“[The Z10] is as good as its competitors, but does nothing to blow them away,” Andy Walker, a technology journalist, told Humber News on Monday.

The phone boasts a totally new user experience through its “hub,” which allows users to access everything on the phone with a single-handed swipe.

The new devices were released in the United States on Friday, after coming out in Canada early last month, pushed back from the original release date late last year.

“We are excited to bring the Blackberry Z10 smartphone to customers in the United States with our carrier and retail partners,” said the company’s U.S. vice-president and managing director Richard Piasentin.

But that excitement has not translated in the market.

Goldman Sachs downgraded its recommendation for the company from “buy” to “neutral,” citing a “disappointing launch” in the U.S.

And the group cut their prediction for BlackBerry’s probability of success from 30 per cent to 20.

Research in Motion Ltd.’s stocks were down almost five per cent Monday.

“Timing is everything,” Eugene Fiume, professor of computer science at the University of Toronto, told Humber News on Monday. “[BlackBerry has] been hit a little bit by the release of the new Samsung device. It got a lot of press and it might have muted the enthusiasm.”

New devices are coming out every month in this age of smartphone-obsessed consumers. The Samsung Galaxy is just the latest.

“It’s no longer about technology; it’s about experience,” Fiume said.

“I think people are recognizing the actual experience is kind of interchangeable.”

The company has been struggling for awhile. They delayed the launch of their new devices before the holiday season last year, missing out on a crucial selling time of year as Apple unveiled yet another updated product – in this case, the iPad Mini, which became an instant Christmas must-have.

BlackBerry’s new devices have generated some positive response, though some people still think it’s too little, too late.

“Its competitors are all working on next generation devices, which will make Blackberry look old again,” Walker said.

The new devices appeal most to the enterprise market, an area they’ve traditionally dominated. The BlackBerry Z10 boasts a dual-persona, allowing users to switch between a business profile with higher security, and a personal, more open profile.

“One of the things that’s important to recognize is there’s a large market outside the consumer market,” Fiume said.

But with shares decreasing and other companies already working on their next big thing, analysts are unsure of what will happen to the Canadian tech symbol.

Fiume said it’s dangerous to place the country’s technology hopes on one company, but noted that people who have left BlackBerry have gone on to open their own start-ups.

“BlackBerry is big but it doesn’t drive the entire business, either in Canada or the United States or elsewhere. It’s part of an ecosystem that’s highly international,” he said.

While Fiume said he is “cautiously optimistic” for the future of the company, Walker said the new devices will only keep them afloat for so long.

“They’re not dead but I suspect we’ll see an acquisition in the next 18 months.”

The company is expected to announce its fourth-quarter results this Thursday.