Blackberry is dead; long live the Blackberry

The long-awaited Blackberry 10 is about to be unveiled and Research in Motion's fate is riding on its success.

You know when someone old and famous dies and everybody says, I thought they were already dead? That’s sort of the reaction 29-year-old Andrew Sturges had when asked him about the Blackberry.

“I think it’s totally antiquated, obsolete and I wonder why they still exist,” Sturges said at lunch in Berkeley, Calif.

That reaction raises the simple question: does anyone still use Blackberry?

“Last time I checked, 80 million subscribers wasn’t nothing,” said Eric Jackson, the founder of Ironfire Capital, a hedge fund that owns shares in RIM.

Early on, Blackberry used to be shorthand for “smartphone.” That was before Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android came along. Today Blackberry has less than 10 percent of the U.S. market and overall sales have been on a downward slide. 

Jackson  says, it’s true that Blackberry has lost customers but it still has a foothold in Canada and the U.K. Its sales are growing in emerging markets like Indonesia and South Africa. Jackson says Blackberry just needs a little loyalty.

“If they got a quarter or a third of existing subscribers to buy a phone this year, it’d be a blockbuster year for RIM,” said Jackson.

Rocky Agrawal is a consultant with re-Design mobile. He says the “10” could stop the bleeding but RIM has lost precious time in developing apps. In its early days, RIM tailored its smartphones to businesses or the “enterprise” market -- and not consumers.

“The old enterprise guys would have said, why would we our phone to play music? That’s a waste of time,” Agrawal.

But the smartphone market is less about the hardware and more about what you can do with the phone. While Blackberry has about 70,000 apps, Apple has a million and Android is projected to reach a million soon.

And yet, Blackberry isn't dead.

“Even after buying new Blackberries and marketing costs, we think they’ll still have $2 billion on hand,” said Brian Colello, an analyst at Morningstar.

He says RIM's first job is to create buzz. To do that, it’s bought its first ever Super Bowl commercial for the Blackberry 10.

About the author

Queena Kim covers technology for Marketplace. She lives in the Bay Area.

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