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Skepticism about ex-RIM's future lingers

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It's finally come out with a redesigned, reimagined device, changed the name of the company from the awkward Research In Motion to just plain BlackBerry and signed up an iconic star in Alicia Keys to market that product.

But will that be enough for BlackBerry to reach its former heights of success?

Technology and industry analysts have become so used to being disappointed by the company that was once the dominant player in the mobile smartphone market -- a market the BlackBerry invented -- many are already saying its new device and new operating system may be too little, too late.

The stock price fell close to 12 per cent on the very day of the global unveiling, not the most heartening sign for the company.

There are probably few who will say the new BlackBerry Z10 or Q10 are not upgrades to the previous iteration, but will that get people to buy in?

As the one who's trying to play catch-up, it behooves BlackBerry to do something extraordinary.

Maybe it's too soon for anyone but the tech experts to judge that, but the punters may not be impressed enough to switch.

Kyle Romaniuk, a branding expert and the vice-president of corporate initiatives for ClarkHuot in Winnipeg, said, "Since BlackBerry had the smaller market share you would typically expect them to challenge the status quo. As the smaller player, they should be more agile, take more risks."

But that's not the impression Romaniuk has of the new BlackBerrys.

"It looks like they have launched a new product and put everything they possibly could into it. But it looks like their benchmark was the products that exist in the market today," he said. "You'd think they would have pushed past what was already there. But basically, they are just on par with everybody else."

Some say the fact the Waterloo, Ont.,-based company is still around is a sign it has a chance to survive.

Peter George, CEO of Winnipeg-based McKim Cringan George, believes the iconic Canadian company still has a chance to succeed even though its trajectory has been one of the most unusual in the history of the tech sector after being so far ahead of the competitors and then finding itself trailing the pack so quickly.

"Does it have a chance? I think it does," George said. "The company has always been flush with cash. It's always believed in itself and has been relatively successful for a while."

And it's not like it has abandoned its customers or markets. A recent report in Business Week noted its continuing strong market share in Indonesia and other Asian markets.

"They have stuck to their knitting, so to speak," George said. "They have not freaked out and sold the business or overreacted."

He said there is a school of thought that says if you delay the launch of a new product for as long as BlackBerry did, it means the company either really doesn't know what it's doing or it's supremely confident that what it's coming out with will be successful.

George said the dramatic fall from grace speaks to the massive rate of change that has become a regular feature of the market today, especially in the technology sector.

As such, Romaniuk said for BlackBerry to win over the doubters, it needs to show it is a change merchant.

"The expectations are a lot higher in the market now," he said. "At least they are at the table now. But I think people would like to see something new every quarter that is pushing it further. They have to go beyond being just good enough."

Then there is the national-pride side of things.

Canadians have had precious little to root for the in the tech sector since the demise of Nortel. So there is some sort of goodwill factor that exists for BlackBerry, at least in the Canadian market.

"What the next couple of weeks holds, nobody knows," said George. "I hope it is successful. It is a great Canadian business story and I hope they can keep it going."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2013 B4

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About Martin Cash

Martin Cash joined the Free Press in 1987 as the paper’s business columnist.

He has spent two decades chronicling the city’s business affairs.

Martin won a citation of merit from the National Newspaper Awards in 2001 for his coverage of the strike and subsequent multi-million-dollar union settlement at the Versatile tractor plant. He has also received honours and awards for his work on agriculture and technology development in Manitoba.

Martin has written a coffee-table book about the commercial and industrial make-up of the city, called Winnipeg: A Prairie Portrait.

Martin Cash on Twitter: @martycash

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

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