Do or die: BlackBerry, once known as Research in Motion, has a lot riding on its new Z10.
It must have felt like a different world for BlackBerry, as it launched its Z10 phone to the Australian market at a massive event in Sydney’s Star casino complex on Monday afternoon.
The core BlackBerry user is still the business executive on the move but the company’s Australian managing director Matthew Ball is very clear that in the era of “bring your own device”, or BYOD, he now has to court consumers.
“In an ideal world we’d walk into every enterprise-level organisation in Australia and they’d fill their enterprise with BlackBerries - that would be lovely – but we’re also cognisant of the fact that it’s about choice,” Ball told BRW.
“With BYOD we’ve got some work to do in the consumer space. The product we’re launching now is right for the consumer and right for enterprise but historically we haven’t been known for our consumer product here, though certainly in other markets we have been huge in consumer.
“The Australian user base is about two-thirds enterprise and one-third consumer. For us to remain successful in enterprise, we have to win in consumer and we built this with that in mind.”
It’s game on at the Grand Prix
One salvo in the battle for the hearts and minds of consumers was fired on Sunday at the Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne where BlackBerry is sponsoring the Mercedes AMG Petronas team, though Ball says it is better characterised as a technology partnership than a straight sponsorship.
At the Star casino event for developers, business partners, analysts and media, a BlackBerry-branded Formula One race car sits in the middle of the room – though sadly no one gets to take it for a test drive.
BlackBerry global chief executive Thorsten Heins is in town to give the keynote address with events due to run all afternoon and wrap up by 9.30pm on Monday night.
“In terms of how we get traction in the consumer space, the F1 partnership is a lever and an example, but it’s not the crux of it,” Ball says.
“There’s no silver bullet in terms of how to engage consumers, there’s a significant marketing program and we’re investing more in the Australian market over the next six months from a marketing perspective than we ever have before.
“That involves traditional things like above-the-line television, radio, press advertising but also working with our carrier partners to make sure we’ve got the right spot in store and it’s very crisp and clear and easy to see, ‘Oh there’s BlackBerry 10.’ In addition to that we’ve got significant programs with our existing customer base – they love BlackBerry.”
Calling the BlackBerry faithful
Ball says the best evangelists are loyal users, of which BlackBerry still has a few. BlackBerry Z10 sold out in India within two days and had also sold out in the UK, he says.
The core feature of the BlackBerry 10 operating system is the ability to partition so the business and personal applications can be kept separate and secure.
Ball says some of the key features for consumers include the fact that users can have up to eight apps open at once and a faster internet browser speed, which he says is the fastest of any mobile or desktop device.
The Z10 also has a touch-screen keyboard which adapts to the user’s typing style and can predict common phrases and words, as well as a camera that records a few seconds before and after a photograph is taken so users can adjust people’s facial expressions.
The BlackBerry Z10 will be available through Optus from March 25, Telstra from March 26 and to buy outright for about $733 through JB HiFi and Harvey Norman.
The phone will have 70,000 apps available at launch with thousands more to be added daily. Ball says app development has been a key focus for BlackBerry; the company has tried to assist developers by providing the ability to port from Android.
Despite the renewed focus on consumers, BlackBerry still puts a lot of effort into direct enterprise sales and Ball says there are some significant corporate customers that have committed to buying and launching BlackBerry 10.
“I’m not able to tell you who they are but they are some pretty iconic Australian brands,” Ball says. “I’m feeling pretty good heading into this launch knowing that.”
Keeping Qantas on board
Ball adds he is very keen to retain Qantas. “Qantas is still a customer of ours, they still have product of ours, and I want Qantas back in its entirety. Qantas is an important and iconic brand and I think what we have got is right for them. I want them back.”
Ball says the proposition for corporate customers goes beyond the device itself – it’s also about the BlackBerry 10 enterprise server software, which provides remote mobile device management capability to BlackBerries and other smartphones and tablets.
This is the reason Ball is so comfortable with the BYOD trend – he has already sold corporate customers on the software product before the hardware is even available. These are customers he anticipates will also buy BlackBerry phones, but he says the server software is good enough to stand on its own.
“The BYOD trend is great for us, not just for Z10 device but also on the BlackBerry device server 10 product,” he says.
“Those pieces around security, manageability and simplicity – you get the full experience with the hardware device but what you get with the software is unmatched by competitors.”
BlackBerry launched its first product, an email pager, in 1999 and pioneered the smartphone market, though it wasn’t called that until 2007. Now the company is fighting Windows 8 for third place, behind Android and iOS, in the market. Many commentators say this is “do or die” for BlackBerry.
Meanwhile, Samsung, the dominant manufacturer for the market-leading Android platform, launched its Galaxy S4 smartphone in New York last week. The Samsung Galaxy S4 will be available in Australia some time in the second quarter, with details on pricing and availability to come.