Why BlackBerry Will Beat Windows Phone: It's Cool Again!

Last week, in an attempt to get the contacts on my old Android transferred to the new BlackBerry Z10, I stopped at my local AT&T store to see if they could transfer them. It was like a rock star just walked into the room.

The rock star wasn’t me. I am not that cool. It was the Z10. 

The AT&T employees (who couldn’t actually transfer the contacts since BlackBerry 10 is so new) fawned over the device like it was a favorite cousin come home after years lost at sea. They took pictures of it and sent them to a friend. They bet each other they could figure out how to use the gesture-based navigation. The reaction was a little surprising.

BlackBerry Retains Brand Loyalty

I could have brought any number of unreleased smartphones in for the same purpose and not have elicited such a reaction. BlackBerry, as much or more than Android or iOS, still elicits excitement and loyalty. And here is the BlackBerry Z10, the prodigal son come back to the fold.

People are so excited for the new BlackBerry smartphones that I found one selling on eBay for $1,500 last week. Outside of a pre-released iPhone, what other smartphone manufacturer can generate that kind of anticipation? Certainly not anyone building Windows Phone device. 

This brand loyalty, dormant for years while Research In Motion languished under its own ineptitude, is among the reasons that BlackBerry will firmly take the No. 3 spot behind the iPhone and Android in the smartphone wars. Despite the arguments of ReadWrite's Mark Hachman, BlackBerry's major competitor for that position, Windows Phone, can claim no such loyalty. 

(See also: Why Windows Phone Will Be No. 3: Apps & Microsoft.)

In fact, BlackBerry has been keeping up with Nokia and Windows Phone in terms of global shipments even without BlackBerry 10. 

That’s about three million units behind Nokia, which also still sells Symbian smartphones and the Asha series (which straddles the line between feature phone and smartphone). Granted, IDC’s numbers do not include Windows Phone sales from Samsung or HTC, but both of those are negligible according to earnings announcements from both companies. 

If you are rooting for Windows Phone to join Apple and Google on top of the smartphone heap, you might be a bit worried that a sleeping giant has just woken up. It may not be as big and bad as the Apple/Android giants, but its potential remains bigger than Microsoft’s on the global market.

So let’s put aside the posturing and get to the nitty-gritty of why BlackBerry 10 will ultimately win out over Windows Phone:

The Same, But Different

BlackBerry 10 takes the things people like about the user experience on Android and iOS and makes them unique. The gesture-based control takes a while to figure out, but once you have it down, it is fairly intuitive. Windows Phone is a lot of scroll, scroll, go left to right and scroll some more. The BlackBerry 10 user experience is interesting and fluid, not stationary and flat like Windows Phone. 

What BlackBerry has done with its UI feels fundamentally different while also retaining certain similarities from the Android/iOS environment. This will help transition people to the operating system without the shell shock often felt when first encountering the Hubs & Tiles environment of Windows Phone. There is nothing wrong with Hubs & Tiles, but I have seen people on more than one occasion pick up the device, ask "What is this?" and then put it back down in bewilderment. 

Apps Ecosystems

I am not going to spend a lot of time on this because, ultimately, it will be a non-factor between the two operating systems. Ultimately, the two app ecosystems will grow side by side with the winner (by volume, at least) determined by which devices sell better.

In the meantime, essentially, it is a wash. Yes, 40% of BlackBerry apps are Android ports and BlackBerry encouraged developers to wrap their apps for its platform. 

Microsoft essentially did the same thing. There are very few mobile app developers that actively want to write in .NET and C# to build native apps for a platform that still has relatively few users. Most developers would rather write in a language where it can serve multiple purposes, and in that case the mobile-Web, HTML5/CSS and Javascript (through Android) support of BlackBerry 10 becomes a more viable alternative.

The Enterprise

Enterprise mobility used to be synonymous with BlackBerry. That's less true now, but very few large organizations have chosen Windows Phone as their primary mobile operating system. Government and enterprise users would either hang on to old BlackBerrys or go to the iPhone. You still see lots of people who carry two phones, one BlackBerry for work and one iPhone/Android for personal use.

BlackBerry seeded BlackBerry 10 phones to large enterprises and federal government to rebuild the enterprise base that has to be the foundation of what it is built from. Enterprises still trust BlackBerry and are among some of the most relieved clients now that the company finally has some viable smartphone options coming down the pipe. 

Distribution

Distribution is a critcal factor in the smartphone wars. One reason that Nokia and Windows Phone flounder in the U.S. is because of carrier exclusivity and the lack of cross-platform options. Nokia needs to be more like Samsung and use the shotgun approach to smartphone deployment. Instead, it dabbles with a Lumia 920 at AT&T, a Lumia 610 on T-Mobile. This approach is haphazard and ineffective.

BlackBerry has tested BlackBerry 10 smartphones with 120 carriers worldwide. It has all four major U.S. carriers lined up to sell the Z10 (come mid-March) and likely the Q10 as well. BlackBerry did not get caught in the same distribution traps that Nokia did with Windows Phone. 

Why BlackBerry Will Beat Windows Phone 8

The fact of the matter is that we are arguing over No. 3. Really, I could see either platform taking over the spot. Yet Windows Phone has been out since November 2011 and it still has not gained significant market share.

Sorry Mark, BlackBerry has the upper hand in mobile over Microsoft. The device is unique but familiar, the distribution philosophy is better, it has an enterprise base and brand loyalty of millions of former users. What BlackBerry does not have that Microsoft does is money. BlackBerry cannot afford for BlackBerry 10 to fail, while Microsoft can do with Windows Phone what it did with Xbox and just keep pumping money into it until it is successful.

But, if BlackBerry 10 does prove successful, the window for Windows Phone may just shut down.

Photo by Dan Rowinski.