In the past 18 months, BlackBerry, until this week known as Research in Motion, has not failed to catch the attention of doomsayers charting its decline. However, tech-sector communications executives say not to write the company off just yet.
In recent years, Apple and Samsung have tightened their grip on the smartphone market, while BlackBerry has seen its market share shrivel and its revenue hit. Research in Motion has also been plagued by outages that have damaged the company's reputation.
Therefore, most observers consider RIM's rebranding as BlackBerry this Wednesday and the debut of the BB10 operating system and two new phones as the company's make-or-break moment.
Cheryl Gale, managing partner at March Communications, says BlackBerry does have a chance to make a comeback.
“I think what they've done is made themselves more relevant and modern. BlackBerry users who switched because of the apps and usability but miss it might return back – and feel less embarrassed,” she explains.
Gale adds that Wednesday's launch was more about BlackBerry “keeping in the game, not raising the bar.”
“If you look at the launch, it showed real confidence in what they've done. It may have taken too long, but everything was done really well,” she says.
Gale adds that journalists who may have previously “bashed” BlackBerry have been saying “some pretty good things” about its new line of devices. She cites a positive review by David Pogue of The New York Times, who said he was wrong about BlackBerry being doomed.
Jason Mandell, co-founder of LaunchSquad, agrees that the event shows that BlackBerry can be revived, explaining, “If you look at how Apple came back, anything is possible.”
He adds that the launch was “a good move” by the company, both in terms of PR strategy and developing something innovative and new.
“In technology, when you stop innovating like RIM did, there is a big penalty to pay,” he says. “From a PR standpoint, they have to focus on presenting the company as innovative and creative to get reporters back on their side and stop bashing them for their mistakes.”
Mandell, who adds that “everyone likes a comeback,” says it is important for BlackBerry to “take swings” and risk failure, like Apple and Google do, to get the media back on its side.
Todd Defren, CEO of Shift Communications, agrees that BlackBerry is ripe for a comeback.
“If there is one thing about America, it's that we love an underdog, and with brands like BlackBerry and Microsoft that have been in dumps so long, the market might be ready for a comeback,” he says.
Yet Defren adds that the jury is still out on the likelihood of BlackBerry returning to its former position.
“Its path is akin to Microsoft's -- an iconic tech brand that once dominated. It will continue to bumble along for the next several years, but its likelihood to resurge to market domination is remote,” he says. “It's my personal hunch that some of the features will be superior enough to serve as a Hail Mary that could keep the company in the game, but would be unlikely to turn the market on its head.”
BlackBerry also surprised the press this week by announcing that singer Alicia Keys has been hired as its new “creative director.”
Gale says Keys' admission that she is a former BlackBerry user who abandoned the device but returned to it is a salient one for many people, particularly in the corporate world where its security features and QWERTY keyboard helped to drive its popularity.
She suggests the company should embrace this idea with a marketing and PR campaign that would feature former BlackBerry users who have returned to the device.