BlackBerry: Sell the News, or Just Sell?

The market reacted with a cold shoulder to Research In Motion's rollout of its two new devices, the Z10 touchscreen model and the Q10 with the signature RIM QWERTY keyboard, which will run on the BlackBerry 10 operating system. The company also announced it would be changing its name to BlackBerry. The stock closed Wednesday's session essentially at the low of the day, down over 12%. The question that must now be answered is whether this was a case of selling the news or if the device is sufficiently underwhelming to warrant the sell-off. While it may be premature to fully judge the latest offering from BlackBerry, the announcement that the Z10 will not go on sale in the U.S. until Marchis cause for concern.

Mixed messages
While we all like to form our own opinions, the insights of the "experts" have a tendency to play a fairly significant role in the attitude with which we evaluate anything new. If you check out the new Z10 expecting to like it, you're more likely to at least give it a fair shake than if you assume the device will be a disappointment. From an investment perspective, then, the quality of the reviews that the device receives is very important. Two of the most important voices in the industry are Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal and David Pogue of The New York Times.

On the lower end of the spectrum, Mossberg gives the new device a lukewarm review, generally praising the Z10 overall, but finding issues with some functionality and the lack of certain apps. Despite the shortcomings, his conclusion is a qualified endorsement:

The Z10 and BB10 represent a radical reinvention of the BlackBerry. The hardware is decent and the user interface is logical and generally easy to use. I believe it has a chance of getting RIM back into the game, if the company can attract a lot more apps.

Mossberg did not speak directly on the probability of BlackBerry's imminent return to relevance -- "a chance" is not the type of investment most of us are seeking.

In a much more positive review, Pogue begins by apologizing for the negativity he had expressed in past pieces written on the new devices' prospects. In the place of his previous prediction of doom, he refers to the new Z10 as "lovely, fast and efficient, bristling with fresh, useful ideas." Perhaps his most positive observation is that the device is complete, containing of the features and functionality you would want in a cutting-edge smartphone. While the review is generally more positive, he ultimately concedes that there is no certainty that the new smartphones will be enough to save the company.

New name, same delay
While CEO Thorsten Heins announced that moving forward the company was officially changing its name to BlackBerry, the market was more focused on the fact that the U.S. release will not take place until March. With reference to the name change, Heins said, "From this point forward, RIM becomes BlackBerry. It is one brand; it is one promise." Unfortunately, that promise seems to be that consumers will have to wait to actually buy the new product for over a month.

The company, which has been delaying the release of both the BB10 OS and the Z10 device for some time, cited testing with U.S. carriers as the reason for the additional delay, though very little color was given. Among other major marketing pushes that have been planned by the company for the coming weeks, BlackBerry has purchased ad time during the upcoming Super Bowl. It seems somewhat ill conceived to whip consumers into a frenzy and then ask them to stay excited for a month until the device is on shelves. It would be a shame to see a legitimate new entrant to the smartphone war lose before it even takes the battlefield.

Don't get juiced
As a once-upon-a-time fan of BlackBerry, I would love to see the company fight its way back to relevance and offer a legitimate alternative to Apple and Android. While the iPhone remains a highly coveted, user-friendly option, it lacks some of the inspiring innovation that let the company beat BlackBerry back from the top spot. Even if the Z10 is able to make a small dent in the smartphone market, it may help to push Apple and Android to evolve and improve. The two ecosystems have been so busy fighting each other that their duopoly has driven the technology in a limited number of directions. Diversified competition is good for everyone.

From reading the above reviews, the Z10 has some great concepts that Apple and Android might learn from moving forward. Some of the indicator features, centralized messaging system and user interface should be instructive to competitors, particularly if BlackBerry fades away. Still, the takeaway is that even with great hardware and software, if the device is not for sale, not many units will ship.

While there was definitely an element of "sell the news" at work, the delay is the story. Until the device is further reviewed and goes on sale, BlackBerry feels like dead money to me. The upside is extremely limited for the next month, and negatives still abound. As such, BlackBerry is a sell until it shows that delivered smartphones are winning back customers.

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