Back in the day, they called them Crackberrys. The first real viable mobile email devices were compellingly addictive. Like, say, an iPhone or Android device is to most consumers now. It’s their pocket watch, their security blanket.
And now, the company newly renamed BlackBerry has set the stage for its devices and operating system to mount a comeback. Should, or how should, mobile marketers prepare for the opportunities enabled by the new device and OS?
Assessing Its Chances
Whether the BlackBerry 10 OS, and the two new devices introduced yesterday, have a future or not depends on who you listen to. The New York Times’ David Pogue seems generally positive, while Forbes declared the debut a “Bomb.” Some are saying the BlackBerry stock-price drop yesterday means people see the launch as a failure, but Goldman Sachs reiterated its “buy” rating, urging its clients to use the price drop as an opportunity for scooping up shares.
Search Engine Land contributing editor Greg Sterling, who focuses closely on mobile, had this to say:
“It seems like the company’s attempt to create a credible iPhone and Android competitor has met with mixed results. Most of the “hands on” reviews are positive but mixed. BB really needed a fantastic device to “come back.” The Z10 may be able to retain some existing BB users who might have defected. However it doesn’t seem strong enough to capture new users or win back those who’ve abandoned the platform.”
It’s promising that BlackBerry has rounded up all four major U.S. carriers to carry its new handsets, which gives them at least a fighting chance against the more well-established iPhone and Android devices. Additionally, the company has been hard at work courting developers to create apps for the new OS — it launches with more than 70,000 apps and developers like Disney, Cisco, Foursquare, Skype and Rovio on board. The company is even offering a guarantee to developers that they’ll earn at least $10,000 in 12 months with their BlackBerry-specific app.
Additionally, BlackBerry has negotiated with media companies to make available a substantial music and video library to rival Google’s and Apple’s to at least level the playing field in that area.
The proof, of course, will be in the actual sales, which won’t be measurable for some time, at least in the US, since the devices won’t be available until March.
“I think we’re at least a quarter from calling this a success or not based on (actual) shipments to consumers,” Chris Silva, mobile analyst for Altimeter Group, told me via email. “I have seen a lot of positive banter on the platform, but that’s a far cry from plunking down $200 plus two years on a contract for a device that, as of now, has not got a proven store of applications users want aside from its trademark email, contacts and calendar.”
For years, BlackBerry was the “enterprise” device of choice, because data security and IT folks at big corporations were comfortable with BlackBerry. Even President Obama uses a BlackBerry (still), when, at one time, people speculated whether even a laptop could be made secure enough for White House matters.
So any marketer wanting to reach a business audience would have had to make their apps BlackBerry-friendly, if they wanted to get big corporations on board.
But, IT administrators have had to adapt in recent years, as more and more corporate teams have adopted iPhones or Android. Now that they’re comfortable with that, would big corporations push to go back to BlackBerry? If not, who will marketers be able to reach with apps on this platform, and which marketers need to be watching it closely?
Fox News Latino says BlackBerry is going after the Latino audience with this device, though it remains to be seen whether it will be successful.
Altimeter’s Silva thinks agencies should keep their eye on the device and the audience it finds. “Since I think this will be a device with a very specific demographic,” he said, “nailing down that persona will be critical to, in turn, make decisions on what types of tools, apps and experiences to develop for it. If it truly emerges as a business tool for highly regulated industries, an electronic media records app will make more sense for it than a coupon application; agencies should be paying attention to this trend to guide their clients.”
How To Prepare
Though it seems to be a watch-and-wait situation for marketers, there are still some steps to take that make sense. Make sure your mobile website is up to standards, so early users of the BlackBerry have a good experience even without a dedicated app. Then, keep a good eye on website analytics to see what kind of demand may be developing from users of the device.
Secondly, it wouldn’t hurt to either identify some good independent developers who are getting familiar with the new BlackBerry platform, or have your in-house folks take a look at the company’s development tools.
Images provided by BlackBerry.