Where are those BlackBerry defectors coming from?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlackBerry fans don't have much longer to wait now - the Q10 is officially launching in Canada and a number of other countries on May 1, with the U.S. release coming just a few weeks later. While the first phone running the company's new BB10 operating system - the Z10 - became available in February, most people agree that the Q10 is the first real new BlackBerry, since it's the one with the physical keyboard. Actual QWERTY buttons and BlackBerry have, after all, become synonymous over the years. The Q10 is indeed the communications powerhouse that the faithful have been waiting for, although it still doesn't necessarily stack up as a full-on lifestyle hub or enhancer. With a few flaws and a lack of apps, the Q10 (and the Z10, for that matter) aren't nearly as fully featured as the latest iPhone or Android smartphones. Here's my full review. One of the things I mentioned in both that review and of the Z10 is that the dearth of apps compared to competitors may act as a deal breaker to a significant number of potential buyers. As good (or bad) as a phone might be, existing smartphone owners aren't going to switch over if they have to give up apps they've become accustomed to. Personally, I just don't think I could switch to a phone that doesn't have Google Maps, because I use it just that much, which precludes either BlackBerry model for me, at least for now.

Besides app ecosystem lock-in, there are also the customer satisfaction numbers. Samsung, Nokia and especially Apple have typically scored well in such surveys, meaning that people who buy devices from those makers are generally quite pleased with them.

Given both those factors, I was a little surprised to hear chief executive Thorstein Heins say back in March that more than half – 55 per cent – of Z10 buyers were coming from other platforms, meaning that BlackBerry was effectively stealing customers away from rival phone makers. I wondered if Heins might have been torquing that figure to include the older BlackBerry 7 platform, but company representatives I spoke to last week said that wasn’t the case – the figure solely represents other manufacturers. They wouldn’t expand beyond that, unfortunately.

I asked Kevin Restivo, IDC’s senior mobility analyst, for his thoughts. “I suspect that number mostly represents people moving up from older feature phones and low-end Android models,” he said. “It certainly doesn’t include much iOS, since iPhone users are insanely happy as a rule, and it’s highly unlikely to include the latest high-end Android devices like the Samsung Galaxy S3.”

Kaan Yigit, president of consumer electronics tracking firm Solutions Research Group, agrees with that appraisal. “I would think that they are consolidating some lower-end Androids, old Nokia smartphones and some of the [first- and second-generation] iPhones,” he said. “Those together would be about 20 to 25 per cent of the market to be honest, and there would be enough trading up to support the relatively small numbers they are selling, probably.”

Given that, it looks like BlackBerry is exaggerating a little bit. The defections may indeed be happening, but they don’t appear to be coming from anywhere that really matters. It’s not like people are ditching their iPhone 5 in favour of a Z10, which would be a really notable development if it were indeed happening.

What is notable, though, is Yigit’s suggestion about the future opportunity for BlackBerry and every other Apple rival.

“The other thing to watch is a bit a of culture change – I am afraid Apple may soon end up with the boomer crowd if it doesn’t step up to bigger screens,” he said. “BlackBerry has that bigger screen like Samsung phones. It’s a factor for the youngsters.”

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6 Comments on Where are those BlackBerry defectors coming from?

  1. I came from a Galaxy Nexus to a Z10. At first, I thought the lack of apps would be an issue, but for the most part, it has not. What I didn’t realize until owning a Z10 is the value in truly functional messaging device and how well everything interconnects. This is far more important to me than having apps that I quite frankly use on a rare occasion. The browser performance on the Z10 makes up for the lack of apps, I found in my case. Overall, I find this phone far more functional than what I came to understand that android is an incomplete state, even with the Google experience. Quick example, why can you not copy and paste in Google Talk on android?

    • Hummm, that isn’t making much sense to me. Your complaint is that copy and paste doesn’t work in one specific app that isn’t even available on BB10? Google Talk has been poorly maintained and is going to be completely replaced with a new product in a month, and there are many other IM products you could use on Android. And you are saying that Android is in an incomplete state compared to BB10?

      Don’t get me wrong – there are legit reasons for dissatisfaction with Android. The 2 most common I hear are (1) that a carrier store tricked someone into buying one of the crappy low-end, poorly supported models that no one who reads reviews would buy, or (2) Google’s bug net isn’t good enough, e.g. they pushed out Android 4.2 before it was ready.

      But from your description I get the feeling that you just wanted to like the BB, and there is nothing wrong with that – we all want BB to succeed.

      Actually, that is so much the prevalent mood here in Canada, that I think Peter is brave to write an article like this. And while loyalty to Canadian company is fine, we really need more such bravery in our media because we must also remain objective.

      The mainstream media here is tripping over themselves to say wonderful things about BB, seemingly to pander to the national mood and get some of that big advertising budget that BB has turned on recently. Their perspectives on BB are out of sync with international perspectives and that is bad for Canada.

      • That was one quick example, and I debated posting that particular line as it can be taken as a weak example. To counter your point, Google Talk is available on BB10, and it does Copy and Paste. I do agree Google Talk is poorly maintained (even Google’s own desktop product), but is shows that Google is not focusing on end user experience. Yes, I feel Android is incomplete from a usability experience. I even tried custom roms to fill the gaps.

        So here is my full list of pros/cons for Z10 and examples of where Android fell short for me.
        Pros:
        -Extremely fast browser, appears to be faster than even Chrome on my GNex
        -No longer restricted to BIS.. one of the main reasons I left 4 years ago. I wanted to roam/local sim cards, carrier switch and get full IMAP folders.
        -Push email (you laugh, but Android still can’t do this with IMAP… only gmail with their gmail app., I don’t use gmail)
        -Extremely functional hub, and quick access from any app. No more jumping around apps to read/reply to messages (of any form). How many times have you waited in Android for a SMS thread to load before you can reply?
        -Great battery life and the very smart slide the shade down for silence. I can now ‘trust’ my phone as an alarm clock. I would never trust my android as who knows if it would be reliable enough to survive the night (rogue app drain, crash, etc). Also, the Phone call only notification profile. As someone on call, this feature is a must. Android, there wasn’t a way to do this.
        -Finally a BYOD true phone. I never liked the idea that my personal info could be wiped at any time from my employer. I totally understand the need for a company to wipe a device, just never wanted to lose my contents/sd card in the process
        -Very good voice recognition and control. Send SMS/BBM even Emails via voice.
        -Core OS is more functional and polished than Android. With Android, I spent quite abit on apps just to accomplish basic smartphone functionality, such as:

        +Wav49 player to listen to email voicemails
        +keyboard replacements (smart keyboard, swift key, etc)
        +music app replacement, poweramp
        +bluetooth call routing (sound about), bluetooth voice dialing (cyberon). I”m convinced Google employees don’t drive, as the default Voice Dialer doesn’t work on stock android, nor does Google Now route the mic to bluetooth! I saw Samsung roms did a better job of this, but I was using stock Android
        +bluetooth keyboard swap.. needed Tasker, root and another paid plugin to seamless swap from virtual to bluetooth keyboard. Z10 does this flawlessly
        +Bluetooth tethering app for tablets (BlueDun).. built in on z10
        +various launcher apps as default was terrible.
        +Agenda and Calendar widget. Stock calendar is no were near a good as the BB10

        Cons of the Z10:

        -Terrible location for usb port.. It’s hard to type when charging
        -No per-Messaging account notification or LED actions. For example, I want one of my personal accounts not to vibrate/led flash (suppose to be addressed in OS 10.1)
        -more functional slide down toggles, like 1 touch wifi tethering, nfc, keep screen on while charging, etc (Had a custom rom on Android that did this, but now mostly stock in 4.2)
        -background apps need to be implemented (i can see this being slippery, as one of the main problems of Android and battery drain), but some apps just don’t function while not running.

        -Lacking commitment from app vendors. yes, some are porting android, which is ok, but not a true experience. Recent example is the PayByPhone parking app. It was handy with NFC tap and go… but they said it would cost to much money and time to create an app for bb10, and they are in a wait and see.

      • Wow, that’s a great list. Very interesting.

        One general issue I have is comparing apples to apples. I have a Nexus 4 which is literally half the price of the BB, and a generation beyond the G’Nex. So when you say that the browser is faster on the BB then G’Nex, well, it bloody well better be.

        I’m also a little puzzled about the alarm thing. If yours was randomly losing power such that you can’t even trust it as an alarm then you got a lemon. I’ve never seen the native alarm clock have an issue, but there are tons of alarm clock apps with great ratings that don’t crash. Analytics firms (flurry) claim that app crash rates on Android are lower than iPhone and based on my experience with my Playbook (and reviews), both are better then BB apps.

        Also, for me, the voice recognition on Android is near perfect and instant. I find it quite incredible that they can do that (big improvements in 4.2). But I would like a more integrated voice control system like Siri. Again, if you had issues with voice recognition on Android then I don’t know what is going on.

        The Blackberry Balance thing is becoming available for Galaxy phones, and I assuming that Google will achieve similar things with its support for multiple user accounts, but generally expect BB to be better for corporate features.

        Some of the things you mention do ring a bell for me: the push e-mail is not an issue for me but I’ve heard about the problem. You are right to point that out – even though you can get 3rd party clients that do it, you shouldn’t have to.

        Also, the Bluetooth support on Android has been very poor (but they just wrote an entirely new Bluetooth stack and are working the bugs out of it). I’m disappointed that BB10 doesn’t support any form of Bluetooth apps – hopefully they will change that. But I’d rather have a solid stack with no apps, like BB10, then have apps and a flakey stack the way Android has been.

  2. My big issue with Android, believe it or not, is actually feature bloat. There’s just too much going on that I don’t really have the time or inclination to learn. I must be getting old. ; )

  3. @Tom, I’m not sure why, but I can’t reply to the latest two posts in our thread.
    I agree with your point on comparing to a Nexus 4, that is fair. I also commend Google for releasing that device at the price they did, and for direct distribution to force carriers to re-think their bloat/price/terms/locks, etc. The N4 is a game-changer in that regard, and I think it caught carriers by surprise on how successful it is.

    The Alarm issue wasn’t the app itself, rather I just couldn’t rely on it to survive the night on a battery. Due to how relaxed background tasks are with Android, I frequently found quick drains or in a few rare instances, total lockup. I recall using adb to get shell and was shocked to see Sony Music Unlimited having 3 background tasks, burning about 1 to 1.5 percent cpu each and 10-30MB each. This is after a clean boot, and I never launching the app. Now, BB10 might run into this problem once they allow further background tasks in 10.1. Already, I know the Android runtime they include have issues with backgrounding, as the eBay app will drain at the rate of 25 percent an hour, even after it’s closed (I’m not alone, others have reported it).

    Voice recognition when launched from the keyboard to dictate text within an app was fine for me as well. (side note, this feature alone converted my brother to android from ios). It was the stock voice dialer that was unusable and the 3rd party replacements were iffy at best. I had hopes for Google Now/Search (or whatever they call it today), but at the time, it didn’t route the microphone via bluetooth, (seems to may have been fixed this month…http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=2221218).

    For Bluetooth, I heard that the re-wrote the stack for 4.2, but then read all these people having problems with choppy streaming (later fixed in 4.2.2). I tried 4.2 for less than a day, then went back to 4.1.2. I tried it too soon out of the gate, and certain apps weren’t ready for the SD filesystem change, app encryption, nor was I able to patch it with PDroid.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an Android basher. I just found it wasn’t a suitable OS for me in the end. I did enjoy certain aspects of it, like the ability to swap out pieces of core OS, root. I even did a split vpn with OpenVPN to route specific traffic to another country. None of that I can do on BB.

    My needs have shifted recently and I find that BB10 is filling my usage more suitably now.

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