By the time you read this, a chain of events will have already been initiated that will determine the fate of a technology giant. On Wednesday, January 30, at 10 a.m. EST in New York City, Research in Motion will officially announce the release of the BlackBerry 10 platform. This will prove to be a pivotal moment in the story of Research in Motion, a technology giant that has fallen from 40% U.S. market share to 2% in just three short years.
Just as the iPhone is the ever-present companion of a vast population of Americans today, the BlackBerry was an ubiquitous sign of professionalism and practicality for the better part of a decade. With its no-nonsense approach to secure work communication, the BlackBerry gobbled up market share. However, with the rise of the iPhone and other similar touch screen smart phones, BlackBerry languished. Instead of aggressively innovating to remain ahead of the curve, Research in Motion played its cards conservatively and rapidly hemmorhaged its once-dominant market share.
[See the live blog of the BB10 announcement here]
One of the results is that RIM stock has dropped from a high of $148/share in the summer of 2008 to $15.71 as of close-of-market on January 29. Investors have lost all confidence in the ability of Research in Motion to release a product that consumers are interested in, much less recapture a significant portion of the cut-throat mobile phone market.
January 30 marks the day that BlackBerry's four years of frustration could come to an end. The BlackBerry 10 platform has been heralded as a fresh approach to the professional vs. personal mobile device conundrum, arriving at a time when the market has become fatigued with a relative lack of recent innovation. The new BlackBerries (rumored Z10 [touch screen] and X10 [keyboard]) boast several features that promise to more elegantly manage the balance of consumers' professional needs with their personal lives. Early reviews across the internet seem to have only good things to say about the result.
The real question is: Will the developments in the BlackBerry 10 platform be enough to entice customers back to the BlackBerry brand? There is no longer a question of retaining existing customers; there are almost none left to be had. Even the most stalwart corporate IT groups have transitioned over to iPhones and Androids. Simply being a utilitarian and secure device is no longer enough to assure these new BlackBerries success in the market.
The popularity of the new BlackBerries will likely be heavily influenced a few logistical points. One is the price. If the new BlackBerries come out to $100 or less with a 2-year contract, they may well prove to be a very viable option in comparison with other similarly priced smart phones. If they are closer to the iPhone 5 pricing of $200+, there may be little perceived incentive to make the leap to the lesser known product. Another pivotal point will be the success of the new application environment. Although the BlackBerry 10 will launch with considerably fewer applications than the iPhone or Android markets currently enjoy, it does have some unique features around media (movies, TV shows, and music) and boasts a remarkably easy conversion process for Android applications.
The future of Research in Motion will be determined by the success of the BlackBerry 10. Ultimately, that success hinges on just a couple of critical points: are consumers ready for a change in the market and has Research in Motion managed to create a product that can get consumers excited? Technology analysts are divided. All we can do is wait for Research in Motion to make its announcement at 10 a.m. and watch as the market and consumers react.