Jan. 31, 2013 at 2:15 PM ET
New name, new devices, new OS — same old investor skepticism. The company formerly known as Research In Motion finally rolled out its long-delayed BB10 operating system and a pair of new smartphones — one touchscreen, one with BlackBerry’s iconic QWERTY keyboard — in a multi-city launch Wednesday.
Analysts and tech bloggers agreed, for the most part, that the hardware and the platform it runs on are good. The problem is, they needed to be great.
“It’s certainly better than other BlackBerry OS’s... but probably not enough to take the world by storm,” said Brian Colello, senior equity analyst at Morningstar.
So while the devices and the OS have won praise, “It doesn’t seem good enough to convert tens of millions of iPhone or Android users,” Colello said. “I believe in some regard RIM is too little, too late.”
As if to punctuate that sentiment, shares of the company were down almost 6 percent to $12.98 in late-session trading Thursday, after shedding 12 percent on Wednesday.
Many details about the phone features were already known, so the biggest surprise was the company's announcement to rename itself BlackBerry.
“There was not much new news on the device itself with the exception of pricing and availability, which was a disappointment to investors,” Citi analyst Jim Suva wrote in a research note following the launch.
“When I look at BB10 I think it’s a really good improvement” over its older operating systems, said Ramon Llamas, research manager, mobile phones at IDC. “The biggest challenge for BlackBerry is going to be evangelizing that platform.”
Citi estimates that three-quarters of BlackBerry owners are consumers as opposed to enterprise users. The company only claims 4.6 percent of handset market share, according to IDC, so it has a sizable marketing challenge in front of it.
On the TODAY show Thursday, president and CEO Thorsten Heins expressed optimism that BlackBerry is up to that task. “It is a very important milestone for the company. What we did was not just develop new devices, but have a new computing platform,” he said. “We're looking more into the future.”
But other analysts point out that BlackBerry is hamstrung by a lengthy rollout timeline; the Z10 touchscreen phone won’t be available in the U.S. until March, and the keyboard-equipped Q10 a month later. While current BlackBerry users who want a physical keyboard will probably be patient — if they’ve already waited this long, another few months won’t make them jump ship — touchscreen fans aren’t exactly lacking in other options currently available in the marketplace.
“I think it’s a huge disadvantage for them,” Jennifer Fritzsche, senior analyst at Wells Fargo, told CNBC on Thursday. “Every week here is so critical.”
“At best, RIM's new products will allow it to stop the bleeding and hold its market share, and maybe even claw back a couple of points of market share,” Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin wrote in a blog post Wednesday.
One thing BlackBerry has going for it is that mobile carriers are eager for a third competitor to cut through the iOS/Android duopoly. “They want to launch this product as one of their forefront products, so yes, they are absolutely ready and they are committed to spending marketing dollars on BB10 as well,” Heins told investors on the company’s quarterly conference call last month.
In a research note following the launch, Jefferies analyst Peter Misek called the “iPhone-level carrier subsidies” of around $400 per device a positive development for BlackBerry.
“BB10 could provide a boost to company ASPs (which were $227 in the November-quarter) as well as margins,” Goldman Sachs analyst Simona Jankowski wrote Wednesday.
But some analysts worry this won’t be enough to offset expected losses stemming from changes in how the company prices its lucrative enterprise services. BlackBerry executives fielded numerous questions about erosion of service revenue on their December conference call. Wells Fargo’s Fritzsche told CNBC that while a third of the company’s revenue comes from those services, it could account for 90 percent of profits.
“We still have real strong doubts,” she said. “It really is more related to the model and the service revenue changes which is [a] very high margin revenue stream for them,” Fritzsche said.