The mobile platform wars just became a bit more complicated. BlackBerry launched its new smartphone operating system on Jan. 30.That means that in addition to iOS and Android, there are now at least three serious contenders for the third-place spot in the mobile platform wars: Amazon’s “forked” version of Android, Microsoft (Windows), and now — BlackBerry 10.
Should app developers think about building for BlackBerry, or can the platform be safely ignored?
The tech press seems to believe BlackBerry 10 is great as a smartphone operating system, but that it will have a hard time overcoming its latecomer status, and the deficiencies in its app offerings.
One market researcher, ABI Research, believes that BlackBerry 10 wil make gains this year and build to an installed base of roughly 20 million devices. That’s still not enough to carve out a global market share higher than the low single digits.
We agree with the conventional wisdom, but believe there are deeper historical reasons for why BlackBerry isn’t going to carve out more than a niche following. They have to do with BlackBerry’s roots as a messaging platform rather than as a true app-oriented smartphone OS.
Beyond messaging, BlackBerry has always been weak. Touchscreens came late. Overall app offerings remained anemic in comparison to iOS and Android.
When BlackBerry was still hot in 2008, it was disrupting feature phone competitors like Nokia and Motorola. But Android and iOS were already laying the groundwork for their app-centered ecosystems.
Smartphones, aka “app phones,” became a true mass consumer phenomenon, and iPhones and Android devices invaded the workplace too.
We’ve noted before it’s the app developers, and the apps they create, that drive consumer adoption of mobile platforms. It’s the apps, and not the performance or the look-and-feel of the OS, that keeps them hooked on a certain type of phone. Consumers understand choice. If they feel they’re limiting their options by jumping to a BlackBerry or Windows Phone, they won’t make the leap.
BlackBerry 10 already has tens of thousands of apps. But it doesn’t yet have Instagram, or Pandora, and many other hits. That makes it a tough sell.
What does that leave? It leaves BlackBerry with a still-significant but problematic target audience: BlackBerry users who remained loyal to the platform because they basically just wanted a phone that does email, and late adopters who respect the BlackBerry name and its reputation as a serious, secure, business-friendly device.
That’s not a core audience around which to build the next great mobile platform.
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