BlackBerry 10: Who it's really for

BlackBerry unveiled its first new mobile handsets in 18 months, but smartphone users may not be the real market it's after

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The odds don't appear to favor BlackBerry. Mobile app developer Bite Interactive polled 1,100 smartphone users and found that only 13 percent of them would consider buying a new BlackBerry. According to a report in today's Wall Street Journal, BlackBerry has had to twist itself into a knot to accommodate carriers, who have little to gain from offering the BlackBerry 10 alongside the nearly ubiquitous iPhone and innumerable Android handsets. The Journal also claims BlackBerry has had to beg people to develop apps for the BlackBerry 10, which won't be backward-compatible with BlackBerry's older apps. Apparently there will be some 70,000 BlackBerry 10 apps available at launch, many of them developed directly by BlackBerry; that's still less than a tenth of the number that can be found in Apple's App Store.

The Verge's Josh Topolsky got an early look at the BlackBerry Z10, which he correctly describes as the company's Hail Mary pass, a last-gasp attempt to stay in the game -- forget about winning. His 12-word summary: "The Z10 looks like a beefier, wider version of the iPhone 5."

That could be good or bad news for CrackBerry fans. It's good, in that BlackBerry may finally have caught up to the rest of the mobile world. The bad part? If the Z10 or its QWERTY keyboard cousin the Q10 are even remotely successful, BlackBerry might well expect to receive nastygrams from Apple's attorneys.

Let's say the new BlackBerry phones are just as good as an iPhone or the latest Android handset. Will being just as good be good enough? It's unlikely anyone who already uses a smartphone will switch, especially if they're addicted to apps that aren't available on the BlackBerry platform and probably never will be. (I have a Windows Phone 7.5 at the moment, and that's my biggest single complaint: It's not where the cool apps go to hang out.)

That leaves the great unwashed: the 45 percent or so of Americans who have yet to adopt smartphones. Let's assume half of those people aren't interested in carrying anything with the word "smart" attached. Can the new BlackBerrys somehow capture the attention of the other 20 percent, when wireless carriers are virtually giving away iPhones and three-month-old Android handsets? Let's be nice and call that an uphill battle, if not a lost cause -- even if BlackBerry is ponying up $4 million for a Super Bowl ad and naming Alicia Keyes its new "global creative director."

(Yes, I know BlackBerry is a worldwide phenomenon, I get that. But the same argument applies.)

Here's my theory. I think BlackBerry had to crank out some up-to-date handsets to make itself a more attractive acquisition candidate. Who that will ultimately turn out to be is still up for grabs. But it's the only thing that makes sense to me.

I know Mack will be pleased. But now I'll have to listen to him drone on about how his new BlackBerry is so much better than my Windows phone, even if it isn't.

Are you interested in the new BlackBerrys? Post your thoughts below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "BlackBerry 10: Who it's really for," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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