From all accounts, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins is enjoying himself at this year's BlackBerry Live. This should be no surprise, especially compared with last year when the then-new CEO found himself at a conference filled with questions, but no answers. Then we got to see a prototype of a new BlackBerry phone. This year, Heins announced his company's third model in the new BlackBerry 10 line, the Q5.
And of course there's more, not the least of which is BlackBerry's return to profitability, the growth of the company's BlackBerry World app market to more than 120,000 apps, and the decision to make the company's instant messaging system, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), available on iOS and Android.
So this seems to be a good year for BlackBerry, with lots of news, an increase in the number of subscribers and growing mind share. The company is obviously hoping to be seen as significantly more cool to a broad range of users and so is enlisting celebrity spokespeople such as Alicia Keys to help.
The question, however, is whether BlackBerry's good year will be good enough.
On May 14, Gartner research analyst Anshul Gupta announced that Android handsets now comprise nearly 75 percent of all devices. Apple, meanwhile, has dropped to slightly more than 18 percent. And BlackBerry has sunk to the single digits. If BlackBerry plans to claw its way closer to the top, then the company needs to appear more relevant to consumers and business users than it has recently.
To accomplish this, BlackBerry released its touch-screen Z10 in March and announced that its app store had reached 100,000 apps. The new BlackBerry device includes a broad selection of entertainment options and games designed to appeal to younger users. Now the company is positioning its ecosystem to be as attractive as possible to developers—and it is claiming that a third of its developers consider BlackBerry their primary development target.
The problem with the Z10 is that it doesn't do much to retain the BlackBerry faithful, many of whom really like having a keyboard. Thus the recently introduced Q10, which U.S. carriers will have in June, and the Q5 that Heins introduced at BlackBerry Live.
But new phones are only part of the equation. BlackBerry also needs to raise its visibility, and it needs to reach beyond the relatively affluent who buy high-end smartphones.