BlackBerry Should Watch its Zs and Qs

Six weeks after its launch in Canada, BlackBerry (formerly known as RIM) launched its touchscreen smartphone handset – the Z10 – in the US. Some say it’s a make or break moment for the company.

The capital markets are now reacting negatively. Perhaps US investors missed the Canadian launch of the Z10 since it was called “zed10” in Canada rather than “zee10”. Seems that while the US and Canada share the world’s longest unprotected border they cannot agree on how to pronounce the last letter in their alphabet.

To my view, it looks like the latest BlackBerry will be a bust. Although I have not tested one myself, indications are that the Z10 wasn’t a runaway success in Canada. There has been very little attention paid to this touchscreen version of the BB10 platform since the launch event.

Touchscreen is the point of the Z10, actually. This was RIM’s (they had not yet switched the official company name to its better-known brand) big mistake. With new leadership, the company seemed to lose some of the old hubris, but then they decided to play catch up with the ubiquitous touchscreen device – a market utterly dominated by Apple and Samsung.

The obvious strategy to save the company would have been to launch the Q10 version first – the version with the physical keyboard, leaving a touchscreen version for later if at all.

Legions of fans around the world are in perfect sync with BlackBerry’s signature tactile keys. These devotees are bound to seek out the Q10 version as soon as it emerges despite having just suffered the scorn of BlackBerry product management.

But that could even be in doubt with the lost time and added risk of rolling out the new generation devices with the touchscreen. What a shame it would be if those BB lovers never get a chance to use a modern version of the CrackBerry.

And that’s a real possibility now. What exactly was the point of trying to eke out a small corner of the touchscreen market? Why not build momentum through your well-established fan base who would diligently tout the superiority of the mechanical keys?

Despite these legions of keyboard lovers, no other product has managed to gain any traction (EVO Shift or Droid 4). BlackBerry had another chance to dominate, at least in its niche. There’s definitely a market, and it is a perfect opportunity to differentiate. I don’t have a marketing MBA, but isn’t it all about differentiation? Instead BB opted to be a late (lame) follower. Time to go back to school.