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BlackBerry’s corporate battery dies

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If you like rollercoaster rides, you should ask BlackBerry for a job. Not that they’re hiring off the streets right now, but the CEO job is available, for one.

Thorsten Heins was fired on Monday after presiding over the collapse of BlackBerry’s customer base during the past two years. His interim replacement, John Chen, is best known for turning Sybase from a failing business into a leading enterprise systems company by taking a massive bet on mobile at a time when it was dismissed by most.

That sounds like the kind of vision medicine BlackBerry has needed badly for a while now, but of course many will say it’s far too late: the patient is already terminal. Nevertheless, it’s also been given a $1-billion lifeline in the form of a loan put together by its main shareholder, Fairfax Holdings.

That buys it a few more months to execute a new hardware and software strategy that can bring back not only customers, but also market sentiment. However, it’s hard to put together a convincing argument why anyone should buy a BlackBerry device right now. When there is uncertainty around the future structure, strategy and direction of a company, there cannot be certainty about its products either.

There is no guarantee that the plug won’t be pulled on any of the elements that make up what is still a powerful BlackBerry security and communications ecosystem. For that reason, any positive commentary on the company, its products and services must be seen in the context of a story that could still have an unhappy ending.

If you can live with uncertainty, here are a few reasons to go with BlackBerry:

The new Z30 is a great device, with a sharp 5‚” screen, 18 hour battery life. A new industrial design ethos brings it closer to the cool look and feel of its high-end rivals, mainly through its more curvy shape. Puzzlingly, it’s not quite as sharp as the older Z10, though, if you have an eye for such finer detail. And it is one of the heaviest of the current high-end phones.

The update to the new Blackberry 10 operating system, 10.2, is the most efficient and user-friendly OS yet from the company. It introduces Priority Hub, a catch-all inbox which groups all communications together, and gives instant access to the individual messaging apps.

Notifications, alerts and a peek at incoming messages on the lock screen are the most visible of the new features and among the most useful, together with previewing incoming messages while in another app, and replying without leaving that app. BlackBerry itself claims, with some justification, that it offers ‚”best in class‚” security, enterprise mobility management and mobile social network.

BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) works best on BlackBerry devices, which allow voice and video calls from within the instant messaging app. The Android and iPhone versions don’t support these yet.

BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS), the R59 a month unlimited Internet package pioneered in South Africa and still offered on phones running the old Blackberry 7 OS, remains one of the best mobile data deals for the budget-constrained.

If the Thosrten Heins roadmap is not completely ditched, we can expect to see, early next year, a low-end BlackBerry 10 handset with QWERTY keyboard. It will be a year late, of course, but will find a ready audience in South Africa.

Then again, many BlackBerry loyalists don’t believe in ‚”if‚” anymore.

Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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