Why BlackBerry’s Z3 is a Lost Opportunity

June 27, 2014 0 comments

Prasanto K Roy (@prasanto), advisor CyberMedia

‘My BlackBerry was stolen, but it was returned immediately’, goes one much-shared tweet. ‘All ten BlackBerry users won’t get this joke,’ says another. BlackBerry jokes flew thick and fast, again, with the recent India launch of the Z3 at Rs 15,990. ‘Overpriced’, was the consensus among tech reviewers, some of whom were expecting it to be in the Rs 11k range, based on (telco-subsidised) pricing in Indonesia. Its price now brings it almost level with the older but top-end BlackBerry 10 touch handset on the Indian market, the Z10. The Z3 is made by Foxconn, the Chinese company that also makes the iPhone for Apple. It has a 5-inch display, and runs the latest version of BlackBerry 10.

It’s solid, feels premium, has good battery life, a 5 MP rear camera, and 8 GB internal storage (and a microSD slot). It will let you download Android apps in a roundabout way. It’s really very nice, but doesn’t have a lot to stand out from the crowd of Rs 15-20k smartphones. Almost every recent BlackBerry has come in through the same route: price high, and bring down gradually, or sharply. (Contrast that with Apple’s handsets, which do not change their prices through their shelf lives, until there’s a new generation of iPhone out.) The best example of this is the Z10, which came in at over Rs 43k in early 2013. It’s now down to near Rs 17k, making it among the best-value smartphones on the market. The Z10, however, has a spectrum of younger and very capable competition in the Rs 20k range, including the talented and cool Moto X, and a range of models from Samsung, LG and others.

BlackBerry, the company, might argue that its handsets are different and don’t compare with Android handsets, but that’s not how younger buyers see it. If they have Rs 20k to spend, they’ll compare all the handsets in that range, with no brand loyalty. Once India’s favourite smartphone, BlackBerry hasn’t featured in the top three smartphone brands for over two years now. Samsung, Micromax and Karbonn add up to 66% share of unit shipments in India, according to CyberMedia Research.

NO ‘BLACKBERRY SERVICE’
The Z10 and Z3 are both solid handsets, but they don’t have BlackBerry’s old edge over other phones-a great keypad, BlackBerry service (especially e-mail), and BBM, the messenger service. The keypad’s gone from the touch-phones, and few miss it. BBM now exists on other platforms, though it’s been edged out by WhatsApp. And there’s no consumer BlackBerry service on BB10 handsets, which is why you don’t pay those monthly charges, but you also don’t get the robust email you did on BlackBerry handsets. You get vanilla internet mail. Let’s say you got a mail with a big attachment, and you had to forward that to someone. You could do that instantly on an older BB7 device, even with an iffy or non-3G data connection, because the attachment’s processed at the server. On the new BB10 devices, the attachment downloads first, and then uploads again-and sometimes fails with big files, depending on the data connection quality. You think you’re saving money by not paying BlackBerry fees, but you spend way more on data.

That, I think, is BB’s biggest booboo: dropping BlackBerry service from BB10. Both because it stopped getting the BB monthly fee, and because the new devices no longer have that terrific email system. Telcos earn more from data traffic on BB10 handsets, but that’s of little use if consumers aren’t flocking to buy them. The (mostly older) buyers who want a BlackBerry for traditional reasons, BB’s great email, and keypad, would be best off sticking to a BB7 device like the Bold 9790, under 15k. They’ll pay a monthly BlackBerry service fee, but it’s worth it in the direct savings in data charges alone. What you can expect from BlackBerry is price corrections. The Z10 is already at Rs 17k; the Z3 should head down to Rs 12k, and the Bold 9790 or a successor BB7 handset could settle down also at Rs 12k. Over time. Time, unfortunately, is something BlackBerry doesn’t have much of.

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