BlackBerry expands its World: New Q5 phone and promises of BBM on iOS, Android

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BlackBerry Q5What a difference a year makes. At last year’s BlackBerry World event, the company was still working on its mobile hardware and software, trying to keep developers interested in the platform. This year, it’s a whole different story: There is new hardware, more apps for consumers and updated software for the BlackBerry 10 platform.

Although it may be too late given the rise of successful third-party messaging apps, BBM is also going cross-platform. Surely, the company is gaining momentum, however, it still seems that for now, it’s competing for third place against Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform.

Here are some of the highlights coming out of BlackBerry World taking place in Orlando:

  • The BlackBerry Q5. This handset with full keyboard and 3.1-inch touchscreen is targeted at select markets in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia (including the Asia Pacific region) and Latin America when it launches in July. It’s really a budget device for emerging markets, but the company can’t ignore this important segment. The current Z10 and Q10 are a bit too high-end (read: high-priced) for these growth areas, and I think the Q5 is a smart play.
  • BlackBerry 10.1 software for the Z10. We had hints of this update coming and it adds some nice features to current Z10 handsets: PIN to PIN messaging, an HDR camera mode, improved cursor control and support for custom notifications. Should these have been in the Z10 on launch day? Probably, but BlackBerry was under the gun to deliver and this is a solid follow up.
  • BlackBerry Messenger for iOS and Android. This long-rumored expansion of BBM is now reality, or will be later this summer when it rolls out. At first, the software will support the basics: Messaging and Groups. Later, however, a full suite of BBM tools — already available on BlackBerry 10 — will arrive with screen-sharing and voice calls. Is it too little too late though: If you’re using iOS or Android now, how many friends or contacts do you know that use BBM? BlackBerry says that BBM has more than 60 million monthly active users now but that’s well below some popular third-party messaging services.

BlackBerry is also making inroads with apps, claiming 120,000 are now available for the platform. Bear in mind that a good portion of those are Android apps and not native to BlackBerry; for some that won’t matter. If customers can get the mobile apps they want on the platform, they’ll be happy and so too will BlackBerry.

The company is really in the second inning of its BlackBerry 10 ballgame and picking up steam. I don’t expect BlackBerry sales to rival those of iOS or Android any time soon, but they could present a bigger challenge to Microsoft’s Windows Phone than some have thought. I didn’t see much light at the end of BlackBerry’s tunnel last year; however, the company continues to drive forward with everything it needs to compete.

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