Why BlackBerry fans should be (even more) worried now

Research In Motion late Thursday said release of BlackBerry 10, the company’s last-ditch effort to keep BlackBerry smartphones relevant, will be delayed until the first three months of 2013.

The company says getting BB10 ready for prime time isproving “moretime consuming than anticipated.” RIM CEO Thorsten Heins adds that hewill not compromise on BB10 by delivering an inferior product. That’sgood news from a quality standpoint, but by the time BB10 is ready willit be too late for RIM?

Before the end of the year, Microsoft expects to roll out ahighly-anticipated new update to Windows Phone with improved enterprisesupport (RIM’s bread and butter), and Apple is expected to launch a newiPhone. Google is also generating a lot of excitement withits recently announced Jelly Bean refresh for Android.That’s a lot ofintense competition to lure BlackBerry users away from their physicalkeyboard-centric devices and into the shiny touchscreen world ofiPhones, Lumias, and Nexus devices.

RIM’s news seems to keep getting worse.

The company is laying off another 5000 people, it’s losing money,revenue is shrinking, and the company’s device shipments for an entirequarter amount to what Apple would consider a few bad weeks. SinceMarch, RIM has shipped just 7.8 million smartphones and 260,000PlayBook devices. Consider that Apple’s most recent quarterly reportclaims iPhone sales topping 35 million and iPad sales reaching nearly12 million. And Google recently reported that it is now activatingabout one million new Android devices every day.

Be afraid BlackBerry fans, be very afraid.

When BB10 finally emerges in early 2013, the smartphone competitivelandscape will be radically different. First, RIM has just handed itsclosest competitors, the Windows Phone duo Microsoft and Nokia, amassive advantage. Windows Phone 8, the next version of Microsoft’s newsmartphone platform, is expected to debut this year. Microsoft shouldhave at least three months to lure users from BlackBerry with the newWindows Phone devices built for play and business.

Windows Phone already ties into Microsoft Office and now Microsoft isadding BitLocker Encryption, secure boot, device management, and aCompany Hub so businesses can distribute their own apps and informationto corporate devices. Even Window Phone’s app store is beating RIM.Microsoft recently claimed the Windows Phone Store passed the 100,000app mark. RIM is a little bit behind that with about 89,000 appsavailable on BlackBerry App World.

New pressure from iOS, Android
If Microsoft doesn’t take a big chunk out of RIM, a new iPhone will. Noone knows for sure what Apple’s next smartphone will include, but we doknow that lots of interesting features are headed to iOS 6 including anew Maps feature; system-wide Facebook support; enhanced Sirifeatures;improvements to Mail and calling; and, finally, Passbook for traveldocuments, movie tickers, loyalty cards, and coupons. Apple has yet toannounce a new iPhone, but most critics expect the company to deliver anew device before the end of the year.

Finally, RIM must compete against a newly refreshed Android. Google’snew Jelly Bean update includes a Siri-like feature called Google Now,improved notifications, new camera enhancements, and offline voicetyping. Google has yet to announce a new Jelly Bean-flavored Nexussmartphone with a manufacturing partner, but it did recently announceits first Nexus tablet that will ship in July.

Can RIM remain in the game with so many new features and devices comingfrom three of the biggest technology companies battling it out in thesmartphone space? Perhaps. RIM has a dedicated fan base of about 78million BlackBerry subscribers, and a number of those users may wait tosee what the company will offer with BlackBerry 10.

But it’s a long time until early 2013, and RIM’s management is underpressure to look at options such as dumping BB10 for Windows Phone 8 orselling off the company’s proprietary network that supports BlackBerryservices worldwide, according to Reuters.

RIM might be able to hang on, but with a six- to nine-month delay untilthe release of BB10, the company’s chances for a comeback are gettingslimmer.

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