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  (Source: Vivix ph? ki?n)
Can fresh handsets save the struggling Canadian phonemaker?

BlackBerry, Ltd. (TSE:BB) is treading water financially, as it continues to spin its wheels at the herculean task of producing an industry-leading operating system on what is a lean budget compared to deep-pocketed competitors like Google Inc. (GOOG), Apple, Inc. (AAPL), and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT).

I. BlackBerry Preparing to Add Another All-Touch BB10 to the Stable

So far BlackBerry's first BB10 devices -- the Z10 and Q10 -- haven't exactly been hot sellers.  In fiscal Q1 (calendard Q2) 2013, BB moved only 2.7 million units of the Z10 and Q10.  In the U.S. Z10s are now being given away for free on some networks, while rival smartphones sell for $100 or $200 USD.

The company is moving forward amid a fresh round of job cuts and executive departures, trying to bail out water with a fresh pair of handsets.

On the high end there's the A10, which one source indicates stands for "Aristo".  A spec for this upcoming device leaked this week on CrackBerry:
  • Processor: Dual Core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) MSM8960 Pro, Quad Core GPU (Snapdragon S4)
  • Display: 5" OLED, HD/WXGA, 1280x720, 24-bit color, S-Stripe Pixel Arrangement, 295ppi
  • Dimensions: 140.7 x 72 x 9.4mm (9.7 Verizon)
  • OS: BlackBerry OS 10.2
  • Camera: 8.0MP Rear Camera with flash, IS 5X / 2.0MP Front Camera IS 5X
  • Memory: 2GB DRAM
  • Storage: 16GB + 64GB uSB (hot-swap)
  • Connectors: Micro USB, Micro HDMI out
  • Sensors: Ambient Light, Proximity, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Magnetometer, Altimeter 
  • WiFi: 802.11 a/b/g/n (4G Mobile Hotspot)
  • Battery: 2800 mAh Integrated
  • Other: NFC, DLNA, Micro SIM
CrackBerry says that some of their sources point to a non-removeable battery, but a leaked render of the a removeable rear cover conflicts with those sources:
BlackBerry A10
A video of the upcoming device leaked to YouTube, which appears to show the 5-inch screen.  

Based on CrackBerry's information, it appears the handset will head to Verizon Wireless (a joint subsidiary of Verizon Communications, Inc. (VZ) and Vodafone Group Plc (LON:VOD)) -- America's largest network.  AT&T, Inc. (T) seems another likely target in the U.S.

II. A Game Changer?  Unlikely

The pressing question is whether the A10 will sway new customers.  Some reports have indicated that the keyboard equipped Q10 is selling more sluggishly than anticipated.  Sales of the Z10 hasn't been great, but in light of these reports, it appears that among those who do choose BlackBerry, a higher percentage than expected are choosing full-touch devices.

In terms of full-touch devices, the A10 clear trumps the Z10.  The screen sizes is on par with BlackBerry's Android rivals, although the 720p resolution screen amid a sea of 1080p flagship competitors is certainly disheartening.  The battery is much larger (+1,000 mAh), so it's possible that battery life may improve, despite the larger screen.  The processor is a quad-core S4, which is still a generation behind Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 and 800 chips, which are found in the latest Androids.

Snapdragon 800
With the release of Snapdragon 800 handsets impending, BB's handset is basically two generations behind, processor wise. [Image Source: Liliputing]
Clearly BB is hoping that its brand and its strong enterprise services will convince customers to overlook lack of apps, a weaker CPU, and a lower resolution screen than rival flagship devices.  

Apologists/BB faithful will likely point to the "smoothness" of the operating system on older processors and the fact that not everyone can see the difference between a 295 ppi screen and a 400+ ppi screen.  These are valid points, but customers are often sold on the promise of the "best" hardware, regardless of what that translates too in experience.  It's hard to explain to many consumers why a slower phone with a lower resolution screen fits there needs as well as a handset with higher end hardware components -- even if that's the case.

II. Q5 is Dropped on the Budget Market, but Price is Very High

BB's other new device is official, and is launching this week in "developing" markets.  Dubbed the Q5, the handset was first tipped in May and packs a [physical] keyboard.  It has 3.1 inch (720x720 pixel) screen and is powered by a 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 from Qualcomm.

BlackBerry Q5

The big issue with the Q5 is reportedly the price.  Forbes has a nice writeup in which they explain:

And this is why the Q5 pricing is so astounding. In Nigeria, one of BlackBerry’s cornerstone markets, the device is now launching at 65’000 nairas – more than $400. This is just 27% below the price of a Samsung Note II – a premium luxury device.

The Q5 is priced more than 100% above the price of a LG Optimus L5 II, a model with a 4 inch display and a 5 MP rear camera. It is 400% above the price of a Nokia Asha 200, a QWERTY feature phone that effectively mimics many BlackBerry features with a cheap hardware build.


Trying to take the high road with a $400 “value” model is lunacy. That price point worked well in 2010 when high-end BlackBerries commanded unsubsidized prices of $600-700 with ease. Those days are gone; BlackBerry needs to duplicate Nokia’s aggressive low-end Lumia strategy as of now. The problem is that the company may not have anything in its near term product road map that fits the bill.

It sounds like the worst is not yet over for BlackBerry.  More options are always a good thing, but the A10 and Q5 are each disadvantaged in their respective niche's most important selling points -- hardware (for flagship devices) (A10) and price (for budget devices) (Q5).

Sources: CrackBerry [1], [2], Fortune

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too late
By GulWestfale on 7/15/2013 9:15:12 PM , Rating: 2
i love that they use OLED screens (i don't think i can go back to LCD after experiencing AMOLED), an dthe 2GB of RAM is very nice.
but a dual-core snapdragon S4 and 720p screen res sound like something you could have had 12-18 months ago. i know, a lot of people will say that 720p is enough, that a dual-core CPU is enough, and that BB10 runs well without octa-core CPUs and pixiedust... but android phones have octa-cores and 1080p screens, and those are the specs consumers see when they go to buy a phone. so this is too little, too late to save blackberry, in my opinion.

RE: too late
By drumsticks on 7/15/2013 9:40:37 PM , Rating: 2
"Octa core" is horrifically misleading. No more than 4 are active at once afaik, and it wouldn't make sense for more than 4 to be active at once. 1080p is half gimmick and half useful in real world, but it's 100% marketable.

As for the CPU, it will market, but these are probably also Krait 400 cores, just 2 of them and not 4 of them. It's unlikely that will ever make a difference, but again, it markets.

RE: too late
By flyingpants1 on 7/16/2013 1:07:38 AM , Rating: 2
Everything in your post is wrong except the last sentence.

AMOLED screens are basically useless outdoors = professional suicide.

Consumers ignore specs when they buy a phone. Specs don't sell phones. Consumers do not know what the CPU or display resolution of an iPhone is. Nobody even knows what a Snapdragon is, and nobody can tell the difference between 720p and 1080p on a smartphone screen.

RE: too late
By Samus on 7/16/2013 1:41:15 AM , Rating: 3
Blackberry's have never been about high end features or low price, they're about reliable email and communications devices. And that they are. The problem is, the competition is now offering reliable "enough" email and communications devices that effectively offer a better experience (once a legacy BB user adjusts to it.)

They need a whole new strategy. And I don't know what that might be. Their old model just doesn't work anymore. This happens in technology. Look what's happening to Apple...

RE: too late
By spread on 7/16/2013 2:11:53 AM , Rating: 2
AMOLED screens are basically useless outdoors = professional suicide.

Except for Nokia's AMOLED which is very good in sunlight. Not sure about battery life.

RE: too late
By Rukkian on 7/16/2013 9:38:05 AM , Rating: 2
Not everybody needs to have their phone open all the time in the sun. When I go outside, I very sporadically use my phone, and have never really had a problem. When I go outside, I try to enjoy the sun instead of staring at my screen. I would guess that many people think like me, but I could be wrong.

RE: too late
By flyingpants1 on 7/17/2013 2:33:13 AM , Rating: 2
..Corporate and business professionals are paid to answer e-mails and do productive work. They are not paid to "enjoy the sun". Jesus christ..

RE: too late
By spread on 7/16/2013 2:11:02 AM , Rating: 2
720p screen res sound like something you could have had 12-18 months ago. i know, a lot of people will say that 720p is enough

If you have eyes like a Falcon then 1080p would be much better. For humans 720p on a 5 inch screen is better than our eyes can resolve at a reasonable arm's length for a phone.

1080p is just marketing. It will be useful for something like the oculus rift where you want pixel density in a small screen.

> android phones have octa-cores

No they only have quad cores. There is no phone that has eight cores usable. The new samsung phones switch cores used from low power to high power based on usage. All eight cores are never active. More marketing nonsense. Still a quad core phone, just very clever.

those are the specs consumers see when they go to buy a phone

If that was the case then Apple would be dead, but they're not. Specs don't always matter. Overall experience still matters and the salespeople pushing the phones matter. If you don't have someone speaking well of your product and introducing it to consumers it won't sell.

RE: too late
By retrospooty on 7/16/2013 8:12:16 AM , Rating: 1
"specs don't always matter. Overall experience still matters "

You are right, for most people... But Blackberry doesn't bring anything to the overall experience that the 2 main competitors didnt have a year ago. IT brings nothing new to the table and spec wise, its not up to last years phones either. IT brings nothing on either front.

As far as display, when you start getting to 5 inches, you can tell a difference between 720 and 1080. 720 may be "Good enough" but 1080 is still noticeably sharper... And the competition has it.

RE: too late
By Mint on 7/16/2013 8:48:30 AM , Rating: 2
All these other players - BB10, FF OS, Tizen, etc - face a very steep uphill battle against the app stores of Android and iOS. If they don't have some really noticeable advantages (and frankly I don't see how that's possible given the fierce competition), they won't do very well.

WP is the only other OS that has a chance at significant market share, because they can entice developers with $$$ and Win8 portability, but that's it.

RE: too late
By T2k on 7/17/2013 12:16:12 PM , Rating: 2
I agree - if they want to position it as a high-end phone then they forgot to check the specs: dual-core and 720p are both 2012 specs, basically every high-end phone this year now sports quad-core and 1080p, regardless what BB fans screaming about their (imaginary) more 'efficient' OS (it really isn't, it cannot even run background apps as of July 2013.)

BB come back
By DBissett on 7/16/2013 8:10:57 AM , Rating: 2
My wife is in sales and lives emailing folks all day. She has worn out a BB every 2 years for a long time. Her company issued S3's recently, just before the Q10 came out. She hates it. Can't see the screen outside, can't whip out emails easily w/onscreen keyboard, and operation is too complicated overall...she has zero interest in tech, instructions or tutorials, and doesn't enjoy playing with her phone constantly to figure it out. Specs? Are you kidding? Just make it work, well and easily. She says she'll request a Q10 next time. I hope BB hangs on. Unless Samsung et al simplify their offereings for non-tech types and streamline the software considerably BB will retain a market.

RE: BB come back
By retrospooty on 7/16/2013 8:17:44 AM , Rating: 2
She should probably have someone helping her with tech choices then... Because the S3 is NOT the phone to be used outside - its amoled screen is really bad in the sun... It is also NOT the phone for beginners who have "zero interest in tech". Really bad choice. But... That doesn't make Blackberry a good one, or the only good one.

RE: BB come back
By DBissett on 7/16/2013 12:06:10 PM , Rating: 2
It's what the company provided. She wants choice next time.

RE: BB come back
By retrospooty on 7/16/2013 12:28:55 PM , Rating: 2
So basically, the IT dept liked the phone and got it for thier users, not thinking of what the users want/need, but what they themselves want/need? Nice. Sounds like its run by MS ;)

Terrible Leadership?
By stm1185 on 7/15/2013 10:19:47 PM , Rating: 2
Clearly BB is hoping that its brand and its strong enterprise services will convince customers to overlook lack of apps, a weaker CPU, and a lower resolution screen than rival flagship devices.

How is there not a single executive that can stand up and say hey, "Our competitors are putting out 1080p with Snap 800, we got 720p with last years SOC, THIS ISN'T GOING TO WORK? IT DIDNT WORK LAST TIME, IT WONT WORK NOW!

RE: Terrible Leadership?
By ShieTar on 7/16/2013 5:15:32 AM , Rating: 2
Maybe because there is not a single executive below the age of 14, who thinks business development needs to be driven by the demands of technophiles minorities? Half the iPhones which are bought by people are used iPhones of the last two generations, with an iPhone 4 generally going at around 400$. Producing a new phone which is as good technologically as an used iPhone or Samsung, but with a highly relevant addon like a physical keyboard is a sound business strategy.

If you read the article closely, you see that 2.7 million people decided last year that a BB is exactly what they want. Apparently, RIM are right now spending too much on salaries to make a profit from their current niche market, so they will need to find a way to adjust. Excited yelling and attempting to mindlessly copy the business model of the market leader will hopefully not be in their future.

RE: Terrible Leadership?
By flyingpants1 on 7/17/2013 2:36:45 AM , Rating: 2
BB10 with keyboard should be free on contract. Simple as that. Then they would sell tons of them and get people hooked on the BB experience, which is not awful.

The specs are fine
By piroroadkill on 7/16/2013 4:04:50 AM , Rating: 3
They have absolutely nothing to do with the failure of Blackberry.

MSM8960 Pro, Adreno 305 with 1.7GHz dual core Krait is not the problem.

Who the hell EVER cared about what CPU their Blackberry had before?

Does anyone even know off the top of their head?

It didn't matter, and it doesn't matter now.

What matters is basically that Blackberry is seen as a bit old school, corporate devices for email. Apple has the trendy market cornered, Samsung has everyone else (it seems) covered.

What does that leave Blackberry? They might get lucky if some businesses decide to keep BES as part of their system, but everyone else wants to cut out the middle man, use Exchange directly, or use hosted services that are dirt cheap, hence not Blackberry.

Too bad
By Kenazo on 7/17/2013 2:34:42 PM , Rating: 2
It's too bad these new BB's are getting such bad rap. I'm using a Z10 and between the Hub and the swipe keyboard, this phone, as a pure communication device can't be beat.

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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