BlackBerry 10 OS: Even tech companies gain by sticking to their knitting

Technology firms are usually praised for innovation. But sometimes, it's best to get the basics right.

Inside the enterprise: The last few years have been tough for BlackBerry. The company has seen its share price share fall and its co-CEOs leave, courted controversy through some of its celebrity associations, and even been linked through its BBM messaging system to the 2011 riots in the UK. Its Playbook tablet flopped, as other makers' devices flew off the shelves.

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But above all, the device that gave us mobile email (and sore thumbs) has seen its market share fall. Analysts Kantar put BlackBerry's market share at just 5.1 per cent for the three months to February, down from 16.8 per cent a year ago.

The company's third place in the smartphone market owes more to poor sales of rivals notably Windows Phone and Nokia's scaling down of Symbian than any real efforts by BlackBerry itself.

But there are signs that the company, and the OS, is making a recovery of sorts. The new BlackBerry 10 software is long overdue, but has received favourable reviews. The first phone running the OS, the Z10, has also been well received. But the real turnaround may well come from the QWERTY-keyboard touting Q10.

The Z10 is a pleasant enough phone, but could be easily be mistaken for Android or a Windows 8 device. The Q10 is clearly, and distinctly, a BlackBerry, complete with that thumb-stretching keypad. And there is a market for a smartphone with a keypad, and not just among enterprise users.

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According to reports, early shipments of the Q10 sold out in the UK, although an undercover investigation by our sister title PC Pro found there was still stock available. Certainly, retailers report plenty of interest in the Q10 from buyers who want a BlackBerry that looks and works like, err, a BlackBerry.

If this signifies that BlackBerry is going back to basics, then this is no bad thing. Being focused, or "sticking to the knitting", as the business guru Tom Peters described it, is often the most successful strategy, even in innovation-hungry sectors such as technology.

For every company that has succeeded in breaking into new markets or developing revolutionary new products, there is at least one that has overreached itself. That was, in part, what went wrong at BlackBerry then RIM when it tried to go after the consumer and youth markets.

The BlackBerry Q5, a lower-cost QWERTY-based phone aimed at emerging markets, and announced this week, suggests management understands this. But the Q5 is not a hugely innovative design. Rather, it has many of the features that appeal to existing BlackBerry users, married with the new operating system.

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If BlackBerry can deliver their new phones on time, at the right price, and ensure they are reliable, then the business could turn the corner, and give enterprise smartphone buyers a useful further option. Sticking to the knitting, perhaps with a smattering of innovation, is no bad thing.

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT Pro.

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