The BlackBerry Z10, the first smartphone to run BlackBerry 10, has been well-reviewed and discussed at length, but not in the usual ways. The talk of specifications that normally follows the launch of an anticipated device—dimensions down to a fraction of a millimeter, the type of coating on the display, how its weight compares with iPhone 5’s—have been largely absent.
“The hardware specs are sort of beside the point. It’s about the platform,” Carolina Milanesi, research vice president for market research firm Gartner, told eWEEK during a sit-down conversation about BlackBerry’s big announcements this week.
(This overlooking of the specs began even before BlackBerry’s official lifting of the veil Jan. 30. Frank Boulben, chief marketing officer for BlackBerry, smiled in recognition when asked about this during a Jan. 31 interview with eWEEK. “The carriers I meet with always ask about the specs,” he said. “With the Z10, they didn’t—not once.”)
“It’s the software, the user interface, the keyboard,” Milanesi said. “You need to just trust in it; you need to relax a little and let it work for you, but it’s brilliant; it’s really a different approach. I like the Peek a lot, too.”
Of course, she added, “no one ever bought RIM for the sexiness of the handsets. Except the Pearl, maybe.”
BlackBerry will need to work on its hardware.
“It’s much harder to sell, to say that the software is cool, versus, ‘Mine is thinner than yours,'” she said, adding that Apple, with features like Facetime and Siri, has also worked to shift the focus more toward software and features.
“Thin is something people can see and understand right away,” she continued. “Plus, there’s such a fashion component about the phone that will never go away. If you put in it on the table—it’s like a watch, or a handbag. Even if the software makes a difference, you need the phone to look cool.”
As for BlackBerry’s choice of Alicia Keys as a brand ambassador, Milanesi said they’d done well. Choosing someone in the music field is trendy at the moment—Intel has Will.i.am, Windows Phone has Gwen Stefani—she pointed out.
“But there’s also the appeal of the yummy mummy who’s professional, pretty, has a life and kids and juggles everything.”
Laughing that Keys could give CEO Thorsten Heins a few tips on dodging questions, Milanesi added, “How much she can do for the brand depends how much she gets involved in shaping their marketing and message.”
Good news on that front. BlackBerry’s Boulben told eWEEK that when the company was discussing its “Keep Moving” campaign with Keys, “She told us that she wanted to do more with BlackBerry and to contribute more to our marketing, to how we leverage entertainment, show business, how we communicate to women, in particular, and to help us … in the way that we market our services.”
BlackBerry Got the Platform Right, but Must Work on Hardware: Analyst
BlackBerry would seem to have that base covered, then, but there is no shortage of analysts who have written that the company will more likely live or die by the number of apps in its app store. As of the Jan. 30 announcement, BlackBerry World had more than 70,000 to offer, and by the time the Z10 and Q10 arrive in the United States, that figure will have exceeded 100,000, according to executives. Analysts, pointing to Google’s more than 700,000 Android apps and Apple’s nearly 800,000 apps for iOS, said that’s not nearly enough.
Milanesi likened the talk of apps to the way megapixels in mobile cameras or cores in processors have been latched onto as numbers to compare, though they’re largely meaningless without the context of the rest of the device.
“The whole ‘mine is bigger than yours’ is what people talk about, but they should look at quality over quantity. You need the 1,000 top apps, and then it doesn’t really matter.”
Regarding quality, she said that a lot of the apps in BlackBerry World are Android apps that have been converted via a tool BlackBerry offers developers.
“They run a risk of not having high-quality apps across the store. The consumer won’t know which was developed for BlackBerry 10; there’s no flashing light over an app that says, ‘This was an Android app.'”
Milanesi added that she wants to see more focus on the developer side, and that in six months’ time, as a gauge of BlackBerry 10’s success, she’ll be looking at how much money the wireless carriers are putting into it and which carriers make BlackBerry a flagship product.
One other note of advice, she added, considering BlackBerry’s need to attract eyeballs: “A little color has never hurt anyone.”