BlackBerry insists it still has a consumer future

Confusion still reigns over BlackBerry’s future business strategy, after the company insisted at an event to showcase its new Z30 smartphone it remained focused on the consumer market, despite its prospective owner Fairfax saying earlier this week its future was rooted in providing “secure enterprise solutions”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQVKISYQ31s

Such mismatched messaging is a familiar recent trait from the Canadian company. Last year chief executive Thorsten Heins said BlackBerry was refocusing on the enterprise business segment as it could not succeed “if [it] tried to be everybody’s darling and all things to all people”. Once media outlets published the company was backing out of the consumer market, BlackBerry’s communications team were then quick to notify press such claims were “wholly inaccurate”.

The Z30 smartphone, which goes on sale tomorrow (27 September), is targeted at the “prosumer” – consumers who use one device for both work and personal use – a segment, alongside the enterprise, BlackBerry said earlier this week it was now refocusing its offering around. 

Fairfax Financial, the consortium set to acquire the company in a $4.7bn (£3bn) deal, however, made no mention of “prosumers” in its statement regarding its intention to buy BlackBerry. Instead, its chairman and CEO Prem Watsa said its focus was on “delivering superior and secure enterprise solutions to BlackBerry customers around the world”.

Consumers would be forgiven for being apprehensive about whether to buy a new BlackBerry smartphone – particularly as analysts and other commentators have suggested the company’s new owner could soon kill its handset business altogether, which could fuel concerns about after sales support.

Speaking to Marketing Week at a Z30 press showcase event at Selfridges in London today (26 September), BlackBerry UK senior director of retail Jonathan Young said some of its messaging had been “misconstrued” by the market and that “it is not moving out of the high street”.

He added: “A huge chunk of our UK business is consumer led rather than enterprise…we are still looking to maintain our position as the number three platform [behind Android and iOS]. That’s still our target and we’re putting lots of things in place to make sure that happens.”

The BlackBerry operating system currently sits in fourth place, with a 2.9 per cent share of the global smartphone market, according to IDC Worldwide figures for the second quarter. This is behind Windows Phone (3.7 per cent), Apple’s iOS (13.2 per cent) and Google’s Android 79.3 per cent).

Young admitted that getting back to BlackBerry’s peak is more of a long term play than something shorter tactical activity would achieve – especially given the amount of time that new platforms take to reach reasonable adoption levels, which is still about “12 to 15 months away” for BB10.

“Our key objective is the adoption of BB10 and making sure we are getting the devices into people’s hands…we have never said this is our last device, we have a product roadmap,” he added.

Also speaking to Marketing Week, BlackBerry’s EMEA regional director Robert Bose said he did “not think there [is] a better way to show BlackBerry’s commitment [to the handset market]” than its launch of the Z30 this week.

He said the smartphone provides an “unparalleled, unrivalled user interface”, which he is confident will retain “loyal customers and attract new customers to BlackBerry”.

The Z30 will first launch at Carphone Warehouse concessions in Selfridges tomorrow (27 September), before rolling out three days later across the retailers’ stores nationwide and with Vodafone. There are currently no details on when – or if – the handset will be available on EE, Three or O2.

BlackBerry would reveal no further details about the level of marketing support BlackBerry will put behind the Z30 when asked, although its decision to halve operating expenditure by 2015 suggests spend will be considerably less than the major multi-million pound advertising push behind the Z10.

At launch BlackBerry emphasised the Z30’s messaging, productivity and battery capabilities – positioning the device as its “best smartphone yet”. Its screen is significantly bigger than that of its BB10 predecessors and significant improvements to its sound quality and an update to BBM could prove popular with consumers. 

It is hoped the device will help turnaround BlackBerry’s flagging fortunes. The company is set to announce results for its first fiscal quarter tomorrow (27 September), where it is expected it will post a $950m loss. The company is also set to shed some 4,500 jobs as it embarks on its cost cutting programme, although it is not yet clear how its marketing teams will be affected.

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