BlackBerry chief executive Thorsten Heins speaking at this week’s event, where he discussed the company’s long-term future prospects Photo: AP
For Thorsten Heins, the chief executive of the struggling smartphone maker BlackBerry, the future is not about the company's smartphones. The key to BlackBerry's success lies elsewhere, he says, in what the smartphones will become five or seven years from now.
Which is just as well, because the actual smartphone business still isn't going well for BlackBerry, despite promising signs of a turnaround.
Preliminary sales figures for the first quarter of this year, released this week by the analyst company IDC, have BlackBerry's share of the smartphone business slipping to just 2.9 per cent, down from 6.4 per cent in the same quarter a year ago.
It's not just BlackBerry that's slipping: the IDC figures indicate that the once mighty Apple fell to a modest 17.3 per cent share of the half-a-trillion-dollar market, down from 23 per cent a year ago, as the Android juggernaut steam-rolled over all comers. Android, backed by Google and the world's biggest consumer electronics company Samsung, accounted for a staggering 75 per cent of smartphone shipments in the quarter.
Even so, the figures have an extra sting in them for BlackBerry, because they have the company slipping from number three to number four spot globally, behind Microsoft, in the very quarter BlackBerry's long-delayed comeback phone, the Z10, was released.
Analysts believe it's not the Z10, but BlackBerry's follow-up phones, the Q10 and the just-announced Q5, that will really begin to turn things around. Where the Z10 is a full touch screen phone that competes head-on with Android and Apple phones, the Q phones have a physical keyboard and a much smaller screen, giving them a unique selling point in the current smartphone market, in which other manufacturers have all abandoned the idea of a physical keyboard. If nothing else, analysts say, it will help BlackBerry convince its loyal user base of old keyboard phones, such as the Bold and the Curve, to upgrade to new phones.
"We believe that its new QWERTY keyboard products, especially the new low-cost Q5, will allow the company to grow again and firmly establish it as the third big smartphone ecosystem," wrote Carl Howe, vice president of Research and Data Sciences at the Yankee Group, in an analyst report issued this week.
"Assuming the company delivers on the promise of shipping Q5s this (US) summer, we fully expect to see BlackBerry smartphone market share begin rising again by the end of the year," he wrote.
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