BlackBerry’s eagerly awaited BB10 OS is finally here but the launch showed just how important speaking to its customers will be.
In a round of interviews with the BBC on launch day, Europe head Stephen Bates was criticised for failing to put across what the company had learned from Apple and also what went wrong at the business. It seemed like a missed opportunity for the company to accept that it had taken its eye off the ball, but it was the smartphone pioneer and was coming back with some exciting new features. This is, after all, what the refreshingly straight talking Thorsten Heins has said since he became top man at BlackBerry.
The company will have to ape Heins if it is to make the operating system a success. As you’ll see elsewhere in Mobile (page 8), BlackBerry has launched its largest ever training scheme to get staff excited. Front line staff are the lifeblood of whether a handset lives or dies. Get them excited, give them incentives and consumers could walk out of a shop with a handset they never knew they wanted.
Thankfully, Bates was more eloquent when I spoke to him about the challenges and opportunities facing BlackBerry. He notes its UK subscribers still number 8 million – an impressive figure – but the past two years have seen startling smartphone growth that BlackBerry should have been at the forefront of.
The company has taken some brave steps. A lack of a prepay device, for this year at least, and focusing in the short term on a touch-screen phone are a break away from BlackBerry’s mainstays of cheap, well-built handsets with Qwerty keyboards. Its move to drop service fees for its consumer handsets was long overdue and a nice loyalty bonus for operators and retailers for sticking with them.
Will the new devices be enough to turn around their fortunes? Early reviews show them to be solid but unspectacular handsets. That’s not to say they are lacking. BB10’s Balance feature, which separates your work and home phone in one device, is a really sharp USP and what you would expect from the BlackBerry of old. Its enterprise heritage looks the likeliest area of growth in the short term. How BlackBerry talks to the consumer on the street will be one of the most interesting things to watch this year.