Is BlackBerry getting out of a Jam?

Even though the Z10 is on sale, BlackBerry isn't killing off BB7 phones just yet. A lot of that is for the existing business market, explains Orr. "In enterprise the BB7 portfolio is the workhorse device; government, financial institutions… these guys are continuing to purchase BB7. And in the prepaid space we had a very successful run for Christmas."

So if people keep on buying BB7 handsets, BlackBerry will carry on selling them; at least for now. "On an ongoing basis we will eventually bring BB10 to those other segments of the market," Orr told us.

BB7 and BB10 will coexist for at least the rest of 2013, according to European MD Stephen Bates. "We've brought out these high-end devices as a statement of intent - to demonstrate vividly the new BlackBerry. Our intention is to evolve that portfolio to enter the mid-tier.

"But we don't see us getting to the entry-level tier for some time [with BB10]; certainly not this year. Based on the great sales we've had over Christmas in the UK there is a demand for the entry-level BlackBerry, and we don't want to give that up, so we're going to continue with Curve and the entry level as we bring BlackBerry 10 down through the mid-tier and eventually into the entry level."

With the focus on BB10, we don't expect major updates to the £99/$210 BlackBerry Curve 9320 that turned out to be the UK Christmas bestseller (at least if you were giving a phone as a present), though we might see a minor refresh.

The sales figures show BB7 doesn't have mass appeal, even compared to Windows Phone, which is also aiming at third place.

In the US, Windows Phone sales pulled ahead of BlackBerry, putting Microsoft ahead for the first time since 2006, with 2.6% US market share compared to BlackBerry's 1.1%, according to analysts Kantar. In the UK, BlackBerry is still ahead at 6.4% compared to 5.9% for Windows Phone.

But the millions of existing BB7 users are still getting new features, Bates points out. "It was important for us to show that we're not giving up on BB7. We launched BBM Voice and it connects into the BB10 world where we've added video and screen sharing."

Saunders, who is in charge of developer relations, calls BB7 "a self-sustaining market". There are a thousand new apps for BB10 arriving in BlackBerry World every day at the moment but he says "there are 10,000 to 15,000 new apps per quarter built for BB7, so the catalogue continues to grow."

And he points out that when he started his job in 2011 "there were 43,000 apps for BB7; there are over 120,000 now".

Developers will keep building BB7 apps, Chris Smith, VP of the application platform is confident, because "it's a very lucrative market."

"It's economics, it costs half as much to build a BB7 app as it does for another platform and the top earning platform [has been] BB7; 47% more revenue than iOS, 38% more than Android," he says.


Those figures come from Vision Mobile's regular Developer Economics reports; the new 2013 report shows developers viewing BB10 as one of the three platforms they look at first (alongside iOS and Android).

The higher revenue comes from the lower development costs and often higher app prices on BlackBerry World. Downloads per user are also high, plus developers tend to charge for their apps on BlackBerry rather than giving them away and making money from ads.

Does it stay an attractive market? Until there are more BB10 users than BB7 (or the remaining BB7 users change their habits), developers still have an incentive to keep making apps for them - and HTML5-based apps could run on both.

Beyond mobile

At the BlackBerry Z10 launch, Heins claimed that BlackBerry 10 would "lead the move from mobile connection to mobile computing".

But Tim Neil, the product manager for the BlackBerry platform, says we should be thinking even bigger than that. "Move past just thinking about phones and think about getting into the car and other environments." The QNX kernel used in BB10 is also used for car entertainment systems.

"The architecture allows distributed displays within the car," Neil explains. But what about taking your BlackBerry into the car? "We're looking at how we can take advantage of being at both ends of the connection in the car.

"Where we believe we have some interesting advantages is these two things can connect and actually run as one virtual environment, sharing each other's processes and doing crazy things. That opens up interesting opportunities for device to device connection, and when you get into a car, you could make things integrate more than just by displaying my app on the screen in the car."

Outside the car, he promises, "there's a lot of stuff we're doing that will be interesting; we could have more interactive screen management, or display multiple screens. There's the cloud and there's the concept of an interactive environment of devices that are close to each other - or even not close to each other but connected. What are the different things you can do there?

"We think we will see some interesting innovations come out using proximity and detecting the location and the things we can do to really connect different devices and environments together and have integration and interactions happen behind the scenes."

If you're the kind of user BlackBerry 10 is aimed at, juggling home and work and friends and wanting to do lots of things at once, and you like all the gestures and menu options (such as pressing and holding on the date in the inbox to get navigation tools), you might love this. If you're already a BlackBerry user, it will feel fresh and familiar at the same time.

The question is how wide the appeal of this different experience will be, given how many people already like the iOS and Android way of doing things.

But there's no question that BlackBerry is committed to its new platform, as the team that got 70,000 apps into BlackBerry World for launch is still hard at work supporting developers - and it's run by veterans of the same evangelism team that got the world to adopt Windows.

The arrogance and insularity of the old RIM seems to have been replaced by an underdog attitude that is reminiscent of the Windows Phone team - ironic really, since they're both battling for third place.


Mary (Twitter, Google+, website) started her career at Future Publishing, saw the AOL meltdown first hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and she's been a freelance tech writer for over a decade. She's used every version of Windows and Office released, and every smartphone too, but she's still looking for the perfect tablet. Yes, she really does have USB earrings.