BlackBerry (NYSE:BB) investors have suffered through a 38% share price meltdown over the last year. The once-dominant smartphone platform has become an afterthought, a footnote in mobile history, a joke that is only funny to outsiders. The Canadian company is fighting for its very life, now under new management that actually seems to get just how deep a hole BlackBerry has dug for itself.
As CEO John Chen navigates the most difficult turnaround attempt in recent memory, BlackBerry fans can cling to the one thing the platform is doing right. Nobody makes a faster mobile Web browser than the standard BlackBerry app.
That's according to online performance monitoring firm New Relic, based on a huge pool of monitoring data. The company culls performance metrics from big-volume partners like Groupon, Zynga, and the online Yellow Pages, resulting in 16.8 billion data points.
The BlackBerry browser doesn't just win the mobile race. It totally obliterates the competition with an average page-load time of 1.55 seconds. In second place, you'll find the mobile Opera at a tortoise-like 4.78 seconds.
It's a software win, not a hardware triumph. There's an Opera browser for BlackBerry devices, too, and it performs in line with Opera versions for the Android and iOS platforms.
Unfortunately, having the fastest browser isn't winning BlackBerry any new customers. In New Relic's presentation of mobile market shares, BlackBerry didn't even merit its own line item: it was folded into the "Other" option, which adds up to a minuscule 2.2% of mobile-browsing volume.
And the BlackBerry browser's turbo-charged performance isn't exactly news. Even the prerelease BlackBerry 10 models for software development completely crushed iPhones and Androids in head-to-head speed tests.
And what it all boils down to is that the best designs don't always win in the real world. When Joe Average walks up to the smartphone counter to pick his next handset, he might note that the browser sure looks snappy on this BlackBerry Z10, "But none of my friends have one of these, and where are all the apps? Just give me an iPhone or Android, buddy!"
Winning a consumer market is at least as much about marketing as it is about having the best product. And it's very hard to turn the beat around once you've got a bad reputation -- not to mention those plummeting sales that put the entire platform's future in jeopardy. It's one of those vicious cycles.
On the upside, Chen seems open to making a software business out of BlackBerry. Maybe he'll be able to bring this hot-rod browser to iPhones and Androids at some point. But even so, it's hard to see how one mobile app (or a handful, if other BlackBerry apps like the Messenger also take off) supports a $5 billion market cap.
In the end, this browser-speed title is a nice feather in BlackBerry's cap -- but not an investable win.