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BlackBerry World adds more content for BB10 launch, but is it all too late?

RIM yesterday announced that the new BlackBerry World storefront (or BlackBerry App World, as it was once called) for its latest BlackBerry 10 devices will offer “one of the most robust music and video catalogs in mobile today”, including “next day availability of many current TV series”.

The DRM-free music download section initially be available in 18 countries, but the video download and rental section will initially be available only in the US, UK and Canada. Availability of titles will vary by region, according to the arcane practices of the film distribution companies and studios.

Frank Boulben, CMO at RIM, said that his company was committed to working with content providers to bring the best, most up-to-date content to its customers with BlackBerry 10. If anyone still doesn’t know this, then here is Frank to remind us:

“Music and video content is an integral part of a rich mobile experience. People want easy and convenient access to their favorite music, movies and TV shows wherever they are.”

Very true, and RIM obviously needs to match the content availability of its rivals. A service that relies solely on communications is just not going to cut it these days, as RIM is all too painfully aware. The vast majority of individuals don’t want to have two mobiles – one for work, one for leisure – and why should they? This is evident from the growth in the so-called BYOD trend. A portable messaging device with a physical qwerty keypad was a God-send for the corporate workers of the world, who found that constant access to their email was a great thing, and equally for their bosses, who saw a way of increasing the unpaid working hours of their staff.

But RIM no longer has the monopoly on messaging devices. Staff like to choose their own phones from a vast range of alternatives, and companies are no longer the important bulk-buyers of devices that they once were. All this is well documented, and is a major factor behind the firm’s financial woes. Which is why it is betting the shop on its latest operating system, BlackBerry 10.

Jan Dawson, Chief Telecoms Analyst, at research firm Ovum, is highly sceptical of RIM’s latest efforts to reverse its fortunes. Dawson believes that RIM will certainly receive a boost from the BB10 launch, but it will not lead to its salvation:

“We expect a significant increase in employee-led rather than IT department-led smartphone buying. Our recent surveys suggest that even when employees aren’t choosing the device, they expect the replacement for their current BlackBerry to be an iPhone or an Android device.”

Ovum says that RIM is concentrating on trying to retain its current user base of around 80m subscribers. After all, RIM has been able to count on a core of extremely loyal users, who choose to upgrade their BlackBerry devices to the latest models, rather than switch platforms. The research firm believes that RIM’s intention to make BlackBerry 10 “the best BlackBerry for BlackBerry users” by focusing its advertising on work productivity features, rather than something that will necessarily win converts from other platforms, will help it financially for the first two quarters of the year. But longer term, RIM will return to its recent patterns of decline.

At its peak, RIM shipped between 12 and 15m devices per quarter, but Ovum says there is no way it can hit this number on a sustainable basis once the BB10 launch filters through – it simply does not have the compelling apps, content stores, or the broader ecosystem that consumers have come to expect in a competitive smartphone platform. Even the news today of more music, movies and TV shows was a little lacklustre.

By concentrating on a high-end OS in BB10, RIM risks losing its appeal in emerging markets. Ovum thinks it will be impossible for RIM to offer the high specs of BB10 in low-cost products. If the current BB7 OS is no longer supported then it will cede the market to its rivals – Android and S40 are both viable alternatives. As the markets wait for the official BB10 launch, Ovum’s Dawson says it won’t make much of a difference to RIM’s prospects in the long term:

“We don’t expect a speedy exit from the market; with no debt, 80 million subscribers and profitability in the black in at least some recent quarters, the company can continue in this vein for years. But its glory days are past, and it is only a matter of time before it reaches a natural end.”

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