BlackBerry's Big Makeover Is Almost Complete -- but Will It Matter?


BlackBerry (RIMM) has a new mobile operating system, product line, and corporate identity. Come Monday the company will even have a new ticker symbol.

The smartphone pioneer that until Wednesday morning was doing business as Research In Motion will begin trading under the new ticker BBRY.

There's a lot riding on BlackBerry, and the road back won't be as easy as changing its company moniker from Research In Motion to BlackBerry.

Sour Berries

Shares of BlackBerry tumbled sharply on Wednesday after the new BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system and Z10 and Q10 devices were introduced that morning. Based on the 14 percent one-day drop (followed by another 9 percent dip before trading reopened Thursday) Wall Street's clearly wasn't all that impressed.

BlackBerry has seen its share of the smartphone market crater from 20 percent to a mere 5 percent over the past two years. Yes, the company still has 79 million subscribers, but many of those are just riding out their two-year contracts before they follow the masses to Android devices or iPhones.


BlackBerry 10 to the Rescue -- Eventually

There's no denying that BlackBerry's new operating system is slick. The interface -- anchored by its BlackBerry Hub as a notifications catchall -- is generating generally positive buzz from the first wave of tire kickers.

There's a lot about it that is far removed from BlackBerry's stodgy business-centric roots, and that's a good thing. From the iMovie-esque manner of editing videos seamlessly with templates and music, to the "time shift" ability to blend several snapshots into one to make sure that everyone's smiling with their eyes open, there's plenty of consumer-facing whimsy that will surprise smartphone buyers.

The problem, unfortunately, is that they'll have to wait. Despite Wednesday's media event, the new phones won't be hitting the market until mid-March.

BlackBerry users will also have to wait for many of the apps that iPhone and Android users take for granted. BlackBerry 10 will launch with less than 10 percent of the apps available through Apple (AAPL) or Google (GOOG).

Yes, these happen to largely be the 10 percent that consumers actually use, but there are some notable exceptions. BlackBerry issued a press release on Thursday morning listing the applications expected at launch, likely as a response to the market's concerns on Wednesday.
There are some notable omissions in the press release. Where are Spotify, Instagram, YouTube, and Netflix (NFLX), for example?

Facebook (FB) is there, but reportedly Facebook's developers didn't want to take on the project. They simply oversaw BlackBerry's in-house solution. This may not seem like a problem, but it might be whenever Facebook upgrades its own Android and iOS interfaces.

Hard Times for Hardware

The two devices that will carry the flag for BlackBerry are generating generally upbeat reviews, outside of their uninspiring battery lives.

BlackBerry will roll out the Z10 with its touchscreen that resembles many of the iPhone and Galaxy smartphones that consumers are familiar with. The Q10 model packs a physical keyboard that may please old school BlackBerry users.

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The devices will be priced comparably to the entry-level iPhone with a two-year contract. But will that be enough?

Shares of BlackBerry rallied sharply heading into Wednesday's event, hitting a fresh 52-week high a week earlier.

However, BlackBerry itself isn't doing as well as its share price before this week's slide. Wall Street is eyeing a 39 percent plunge in revenue for the company's fiscal year that ends in February. Obviously the hope is that BlackBerry 10, along with the Z10 and Q10, will turn the company's fortunes around when the new fiscal year begins in March, but it isn't easy to regain a foothold in the technology market once it's squandered.

Even Apple investors are worried about the future in a world where Android is too cheap and too dominant. The corporate IT departments that used to demand employees have enterprise-secure BlackBerry phones have caved in to market pressure.

A silver lining for BlackBerry is that it closed out its latest quarter with $2.9 billion in cash. That's a good thing, one would think, because it's probably going to need every penny as it takes on its last great opportunity to matter.

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Motley Fool contributor Rick Aristotle Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. Motley Fool newsletters recommend Apple, Facebook, Google, and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Netflix.

BlackBerry Flow: It's About Moving Between Apps
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