(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

"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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