BlackBerry 10: The underdog is coming after Windows Phone

Research in Motion has been all but counted out but the imminent launch of BlackBerry 10 may put them back in the smartphone game. Microsoft better be looking over its shoulder.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
Credit: CBS Sports

Research in Motion (RIM) has been practically written off by many watching the smartphone space, but that may be premature with BlackBerry 10 coming to market. RIM is a big underdog to be sure but don't count them out yet. It has Windows Phone firmly in its sight.

I am writing this column after watching my hometown NFL team, the Houston Texans, eliminated from the American football playoffs. Thinking back on the Texans' 2012 season I see a similarity to RIM's run with the BlackBerry.

Fun fact: on the original iPhone launch date I avoided the lines and bought my first BlackBerry.

This season the Houston Texans surged to a top seed position with dominant wins week after week. At one point they were the #1 team in the league and were expected to race into the Super Bowl. That fell apart toward the end of the season as the team hit a slump that knocked it out of the top tier and put them firmly in the underdog category.

This was in part because the other teams in the league were upping their games as the playoffs approached. Game play got tougher as opponents scrambled to play their best games. The Houston Texans on the other hand seemed content to coast into the final part of the season without upping their own game.

In spite of this slump the Houston Texans stumbled into the playoffs and played well enough to get close to playing for the conference championship. Almost isn't good enough though, and the team from Houston was eliminated by the formidable New England Patriots.

Why does this make me think of RIM and the BlackBerry? Like my home team the Texans, RIM was at the top of the smartphone game for a long time. The BlackBerry was dominant in the enterprise and even worked its way into the consumer market. The BlackBerry was entrenched in the top tier as firmly as can be until the game changed.

The appearance of the iPhone and then Android phones upped the smartphone game and apparently caught RIM by surprise. Like my Houston Texans, RIM seemed content to ride its dominance in the space without upping its game to meet the competition on equal footing.

The result for RIM was the same as it was for my Houston Texans as the BlackBerry rapidly fell in popularity and was knocked out of the top seed by Apple (iPhone) and Google (Android). RIM quickly found it was in trouble as sales slumped and market share plummeted. 

The company needs to up its game to meet this threat and the modernized BlackBerry 10 is the way to do it. Unfortunately RIM took its sweet time in bringing it to market, slipping further from the top tier as a result.

RIM's BlackBerry 10 is unquestionably the big underdog in the smartphone game and while late to the game the new BlackBerry may still be in time to help RIM regain some of its former glory.

The launch date for BlackBerry 10 is January 30 with new handsets to appear shortly after that date. We may see the new BlackBerry phones hit the ground running and quickly start grabbing market share from the competition.

Last year I detailed why Windows Phone will be threatened by BlackBerry 10. Microsoft with Windows Phone 8 should be particularly wary of the BlackBerry 10 launch, given its platform hasn't gained much market share in the relatively long time it's been available.

In spite of the slippage in market share RIM still has a large enthusiast community. This crowd has stood by the BlackBerry even though is has stagnated for a while. This is partly why the BlackBerry to this day still has more sales than Windows Phone.

The new market share that BlackBerry 10 will grab will most likely come out of the Windows Phone bin in the smartphone aisle. This is significant as RIM smartphone market share is still more than double that of Windows Phone in spite of its collapse, a testament to the faithfulness of the enthusiast community.

RIM and BlackBerry 10 has an advantage over Microsoft and Windows Phone given the former's long history at the top of the heap. The enterprise has a long-standing relationship with RIM and the BlackBerry and should be willing to reestablish it if BlackBerry 10 is as good as it's looking like it may be.

The new BlackBerry 10 handsets also look to be good candidates for consumers entering the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement. This could ramp up sales nicely for RIM and grab a big slice of the workplace market.

Another market segment that could embrace BlackBerry 10 phones is the teen/young adult group. The BlackBerry was a favorite choice in this group before the iPhone came along, and a recent Forbes article indicates teens are falling out of favor with the iPhone. RIM could make a concerted effort to reclaim its former position of favor with this important market segment and make a decent run into the consumer space.

RIM has another important advantage over Microsoft that will make BlackBerry 10 an immediate threat to Windows Phone. The long history the BlackBerry has with the carriers is very important to the future of RIM. Major US carriers have already committed to embrace BlackBerry 10 devices and this is huge in the US market.

BlackBerry 10 may hit the ground running in both the enterprise and consumer markets and if it grabs market share it will likely come at the expense of Windows Phone. The long history of the BlackBerry in both market segments give it an advantage over Windows Phone and Microsoft better be looking over its shoulder.

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