Will BlackBerry Survive?

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Friday marked the debut of BlackBerry's (NASDAQ: BBRY  ) new Z10, the first U.S. smartphone to be released with the new BlackBerry 10 operating system. While nobody was expecting an Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) -type release, the event came and went with little fanfare, and, in fact, a recent story in The Wall Street Journal suggested that wireless carrier AT&T (NYSE: T  ) showed a complete lack of enthusiasm for the new device. The success of the Z10 in the U.S. will provide a significant indication as to whether the embattled smartphone maker can remain viable against iOS and Google's (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) Android. While both the new OS and the hardware to go with it looking promising, I continue to think the task may be too great. BlackBerry remains a speculative play at best, and one that should be viewed with skepticism.

The release was not well received
Friday’s big Z10 release for actual sale in AT&T stores can be described as underwhelming at best. There were no lines, there were no stories about backed-up traffic or people camping overnight to maintain a spot, and there were no blockbuster sales. Bloomberg interviewed Jorge Garcia, a sales representative at AT&T's Lexington Avenue store in New York, who explained the lack of hype as a sign of BlackBerry’s corporate appeal: "Most of the corporate clients are asking for BlackBerrys." The store expects as much as 90% of sales to come from corporate clients rather than from walk-in business.

The market didn't receive the news any better, punishing shares to the tune of 8%. While there may be an element of "buy the rumor, sell the news" at work, it's hard to imagine what will drive the stock from here. The company plans to release 10 new devices that run on the new BlackBerry 10 OS over the course of the year, but if the flagship Z10 flounders, future devices will be of little importance. The company needs to start attracting reportable market share quickly now that the waiting is done, or users and investors alike will stop paying attention.

Is it really that important?
It has long been the position of many that the ultimate rollout of the next wave of BlackBerry devices would determine whether the company itself could survive. IDC's Ramon Llamas underlines the importance of the U.S. debut: "There's no risk of overstating the importance of the U.S. for BlackBerry. It's such an important bellwether market." BlackBerry once ruled the smartphone market, particularly in the U.S., making the U.S. reception critical in terms of both numbers and perception.

Frank Boulben, BlackBerry's chief marketing officer, said that early demand looks promising and that the company expects the device to do as well in the U.S. as it has in Canada. Does he mean per capita? In terms of total number of units, which would make the U.S. numbers look like a flop? Some other metric? When you wade through it, this is marketing from the head of marketing, so I'm waiting for some hard numbers before making a judgment.

What is a fair standard of measurement?
While the company would be thrilled to see its numbers return to pre-iPhone levels, that's simply never going to happen. At the height of its dominance, the CrackBerry competed with itself and then with Apple; Android didn't really exist, nor did Windows Phone. The nature of the market has shifted dramatically and structurally -- another major change is that during BlackBerry's time at the top, smartphones were largely supported by corporate IT departments that loved the company's enterprise security. In the current "bring your own device" climate, the issues that a smartphone manufacturer faces are different. Today, Android accounts for more than two-thirds of global market share, with iOS resting just below 20%. These are some huge adversaries that BlackBerry must face.

For BlackBerry to survive -- accepting that we should leave the flourishing for after the tombstones stop being polished -- it simply needs to carve out a sustainable niche of the market in which to operate. The company's two biggest challenges are that it lacks a cool image, at a time when cool is king, and even fans like me are taking a hands-off approach. I'd like to see the company survive and re-emerge as a relevant name, but that want isn't likely to translate into a sale. Worse yet, I'm not sure I would even spend much time looking at the device in the store before buying something else. This is likely to be the norm, not the exception; it's something BlackBerry needs to overcome.

Ultimately, I believe there are enough corporate benefits to BlackBerry that it may eke out a corner of the market for the time being. If it can use this real estate to build traction, it may have a fighting chance. As an investment, however, the stock is a long shot and should be treated as such.

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Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2013, at 11:17 PM, meanrats wrote:

    Did you really expect long lines! I'm glad there weren't because I got mine without any hassle. It is by far better than the iPhone it is what Apple should have already done. I went from Blackberry to Apple when the iPhone first came out and now I'm back to stay with Blackberry. Before you knock it try it which might be hard to do because AT&T won't put it out on display in Corpus Christi,Texas you have to ask for it! The new Z10 ROCKS!

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2013, at 12:31 AM, garifolle wrote:

    " Apple is at the center of technology's largest revolution ever " !

    I guess you are extremely young, and have not studied history too much.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2013, at 12:48 AM, demodave wrote:

    garifolle, maybe you are extremely old and don't get out online too much.

    The quotation "There's no doubt that Apple is at the center of technology's largest revolution ever..." is not from the author of this article.

    It is a canned piece of Motley Fool commercialism (well, just plain advertisement) intended to draw you into their special Apple report.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2013, at 1:53 AM, jhf678 wrote:

    too many good Andoid phones out there with better apps and cheaper beside iPhone. It will be very difficult for Z10 to compete at this price.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2013, at 6:48 AM, RandomMeaning wrote:

    "On March 25, 2013, at 11:17 PM, meanrats wrote:

    Did you really expect long lines!"

    Considering this is the most highly anticipated Blackberry ever created, with a long delay to build up pent up anticipation we were expecting at least some reaction. Angry posters have been telling us for over a year that the world has been craving a QNX Blackberry. Well now it's here and people were so excited that they didn't bother to go and buy one. WebOS had some lines at least. Surface Pro had a few lines here and there with not much product to meet demand. According to reports from many news sources, Blackberry fielded few phones to even less demand.

    The point isn't to beat up on Blackberry, it is to be objective and honest about what is actually occurring. Which is that while maybe only a few were expecting long lines, all of us were expecting some kind of reaction from pent up demand. Surprisingly, there was no reaction, no pent up demand.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2013, at 6:56 AM, RandomMeaning wrote:

    "On March 26, 2013, at 12:29 AM, InfoThatHelpSuck wrote:

    Of course BBRY will survive. Apple is dead. Dead, dead, dead. iOS is the worst OS on the planet, and the iPhone is horrible, destined for the museum of junk."

    This is a perfect example of the type of denial and vitriol which is hurting the Blackberry brand. You love Blackberry, fine. You hate Apple, strange but ok for you. But spouting hateful lies is not going to make anyone decide to buy a Blackberry. Instead, it's going to make people wonder what's wrong with Blackberry fans and avoid them entirely.

    As you should surely be aware if you spend any time reading about the cell phone industry, Apple has the highest satisfaction rate by far. For nine consecutive quarters. In the most recent one, Apple is so far ahead that the rest of the industry is rated below average.

    Meaning that whether you personally like Apple or iOS, the rest of the world is most satisfied and likes it the best. That's simply the facts in evidence. Railing against it just makes you appear uninformed and out of touch.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2013, at 7:05 AM, RandomMeaning wrote:

    "On March 26, 2013, at 6:21 AM, Rockthebest1 wrote:

    Will Mötley Fool ever stop bashing blacberry?

    No cuz Mötley Fool = garbage"

    Will Rockthebest1 ever stop bashing articles and posts that don't agree with him?

    Seriously dude, negative articles get written when there is negative news. Positive for positive news. If there had been decent to long lines at the AT&T store there would have been articles from every news source saying Blackberry is back and making favorable comparisons to Apple.

    Unfortunately for Blackberry, that's not what happened. Even though there was supposed to be pent up demand for QNX Blackberry after many months of delay, no one lined up for it. In fact, it was completely indiscernible from your average day where someone might walk in and buy a pre QNX Blackberry.

    You might not like that and I can even sympathize but hating on the messengers for what is actually happening in no way helps Blackberry's message. As I've stated previously, I think it actually has a negative effect where people don't want to associate with an angry and misinformed crowd.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2013, at 8:09 AM, nofoolingforme wrote:

    I've tried each of them recently. The Samsung Galaxy is terrribly unreliable and hard to use. Don't waste your money.

    The iphone is so-so and lagging behind the pack in current technology.

    The Z-10 is the best by quite a bit. The only thing that is temporarily holding them back is the Apps but that will soon be remedied.

    Whether the US public wants it now is irrelevant. They aren't the smartest people in the world and are stuck on their APPLE fetish now. In time, many will see what they are missing and go with the Blackberry. Corporate America isn't as stupid as the masses and will definitely see the many advantages to the Z10 and buy it in bulk in due course.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2013, at 9:41 AM, TimKnows wrote:

    BlackBerry has the best phone on the market today, what does "The Fool" have to offer?

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2013, at 11:25 AM, Jjkiam wrote:

    Yes the Z10 is the "best ". Except for those other phones like the Galaxy or Iphone. All these rants about how great this product is from so called users is no more than BBRY's paid bloggers desperately trying to build some buzz. Sorry but the phones specs don't match the competition the camera is not nearly as good,the OS has serious bugs and some of the most important apps aren't available. Aside from these minor details " the Z10 is the best"

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