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Z10 sales start Friday in U.S., but Blackberry's future still far from certain

Gartner predicts BlackBerry will grow to only 5% of market through 2016

BlackBerry Z10 sales kick off this Friday in the U.S., but it is still unclear how popular the smartphone and its Q10 cousin running BlackBerry 10 will be, amid a number of contradictory predictions and indicators.

The BlackBerry Z10 smartphone. (Photo: BlackBerry)

AT&T will put the Z10 on sale for $199.99 and a two-year contract this Friday, followed by Verizon Wireless a week later at the same price.

Less than a week after BlackBerry blogged that an unnamed partner purchased 1 million BlackBerry 10 smartphones, a Gartner analyst on Monday predicted that BlackBerry will achieve less than 5% global market share through 2016.

"Market conditions will make it extremely difficult for BlackBerry to rise above iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8 platforms," blogged Gartner analyst Van Baker.

While calling BlackBerry 10 a "modernized new platform based on touch technology," Baker added, "The question is whether the new platform is sufficient to motivate the buyer to choose BlackBerry over the platforms they know."

Consumers will be key to BB 10's success, meaning that enterprises should wait six months before installing the BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 for mobile device management to support multiple devices "until it is clear that BB10 has proven successful in the consumer market," Baker said.

Also, while BlackBerry last week said it has 4,200 businesses and government customers testing BB 10 devices with BES 10, it isn't clear how many are motivated to adopt the technology.

In fact, more than a dozen companies have told Computerworld that they are moving off BlackBerry, supporting Baker's point.

"We have determined that BlackBerry is simply no longer a fit as a corporate-issued device and are replacing them with an iPhone or Android," said William Rhodes, director of technology of PowerLine Services in an email. "The determination is based on the historical complexity the device needed in order to integrate within a corporate environment [with a separate BES server], thus driving up IT support costs in maintaining connectivity for BB devices to corporate system."

Rhodes added: "I believe BB is simply too far behind the curve to catch up at this point. As business activities became more consumer-driven or oriented, BB failed to acknowledge and respond to that transactional shift. IPhone is now on its fifth generation, Android appears to be growing strong with its development and releases, Windows has recently revamped its Windows Mobile solution, yet BB is just now releasing flashier products."

Amid questions about the overall popularity and viability of the Z10 or the Q10, questions about the number of BlackBerry World apps were raised again recently, after first surfacing when BlackBerry announced the two products in late January.

BlackBerry officials last week said there are 80,000 apps available for BlackBerry 10 after being in the market just six weeks, with "thousands more" on the way.

Martyn Mallick, vice president of global alliances at BlackBerry, said via email that well-known apps are available already from SAP, Cisco Webex, Citrix, Salesforce, and Foursquare, with Rdio and and Skype committed to launch on BB10. "There are very few applications at that top tier that I would say we do not have commitment from," he added.

Still, at 80,000 apps, BlackBerry is behind Windows Phone Store at 130,000 apps and more than 700,000 apps each for the Google Play store and the Apple App Store.

Of course, the sheer number of apps in a store is not what matters, although some have argued that both BlackBerry and Windows Phone still lack enough popular apps, as did Sascha Segan in an analysis posted on PC Magazine.

Brant Debow, executive vice president of technology for BiTE Interactive, a mobile app development consultancy, said via email that both BlackBerry and Windows Phone face a chicken-and-egg dilemma: "They need both users and apps" and both need to occur about the same time, he said.

BiTE surveyed 1,127 American adults online in January and found that only one in eight was considering buying a BB10 device. Debow said BlackBerry needed to show "something native to their platform that was innovative enough for users to go there even without a huge app catalog, but early feedback from our clients and our own experience as developers says that BB10 hasn't accomplished this yet."

Analysts Bob O'Donnell of IDC, and Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates, both dismissed the size of the apps stores as important factors in whether BB10 smartphones will do well.

"How many apps is enough?" Gold said via email. "The key for BB is to get the most used and most popular apps in place -- the top 100 to 200. They are attempting to do that, and if they can get the majority, then I think most consumers will be happy with that."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Read more about smartphones in Computerworld's Smartphones Topic Center.


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