Throwing In The Towel On My BlackBerry Shares

| About: BlackBerry Ltd. (BB)
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This falls into the category of a painful post to write. For years now, I’ve anxiously awaited the arrival of a modern day version of my beloved BlackBerry (BBRY), both as a customer and personal RIM (former Research In Motion) shareholder. Like most enterprise customers, my handset is a business communication tool first and foremost. It’s not a camera to shoot a family event; nor is it my online shopping lifeline.

I am fond of joking on BNN Business News Network that I’ve never switched to an iPhone 'cause "I work for a living." The handset’s keyboard and business functionality is the primary, if not only, appeal. As someone who started with the 957 back in 2000 when you had to order it directly from RIM in Waterloo, the utility of the 9700 and improved Bold 9900 version met almost all of my daily needs.

That’s not to say that I wasn’t incredibly excited about the arrival of the new Q10. As much as the 9900 keyboard did the trick, there were a few modern day things I was hoping to get with the Q10. And now that I’ve had the device for more than a month, the sad reality is that BlackBerry management has failed to deliver on the incredibly modest expectations of someone who has held shares in the company, on and off, since the late 1990s. And that’s why, despite being as nationalistic as anyone, I sold my stock last week at a loss and rolled my diminished capital into Halogen Software (HGN-TSX). All because of RIM’s inability to retain the key utility of the very useful 9900, let alone deliver on the promise that the new BlackBerry devices “would intercept the future”.

Here’s what I like about the Q10:

- Keyboard

- Sturdy design

- Overall size

- BlackBerry Hub

- Camera photo quality

And this is some of what disappoints:

- Font size of inbound emails can be far too small sometimes, as in 4 point, which cannot be fixed by increasing the screen’s font size unlike on my 9900

- When you “pinch” the screen to zoom, and then use your finger to track back and forth to read the email sentence by sentence, the screen will sometimes switch programs as the Q10 screen is meant to swipe when you make a quick right-to-left motion; and, unlike on the Z10, you can’t turn the device sideways to get the screen to turn and expand to read emails

- When you respond to emails on the Q10, your Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Outlook email doesn’t show the email as having been responded to, unlike what happened with the 9900, 9700, etc. I’m told this is because the Q10 “goes around” the BlackBerry Enterprise Server that we currently have on site. What this means is that if you return from a 3 day business trip or a week-long holiday, and you’ve been dealing with 100 emails a day all the while, you have no idea what you’ve tackled while on the road and which emails you skipped at the time.

- By ditching the trackpad, I have a far harder time of fixing typos or editing emails and an impossible task if I want to cut and paste text

- No stock tracking app

- No Starbucks app

- BlackBerry Link (the new desktop manager) finds every photo and word document (in the thousands in each case) on my desk top hard drive but cannot find the iTunes song catalogue; which means I don’t have music on the Q10, unlike my 9900

- Device gets warm if used for an extended period of time

- Battery doesn’t get me through a day trip to Boston, even if I turn off the Bluetooth and WiFi, unless I stay completely off every social media app (such as Twitter)

- Telephone calls can’t be received in the traditional “vibrate twice then ring” mode, unlike on the 9900 or 9700. Which means you can’t have it on your hip at the Opera or in a meeting without changing the notification mode to “silent”. Which means that if your babysitter calls to say he/she is on his/her way to the hospital with your child, you won’t know for longer than you’d like to.

I could go on, but I suspect you get the point. The complaints are pretty basic, and show a lack of understanding or even indifference about what kept we 73 million RIM customers around, despite the success of Apple and Android, all these years. I have this image of 24 year olf product and software designers looking at what their friends are doing with their Samsungs, rather than asking the 50 year old lawyer why he/she has stuck with RIM through thick and thin.

You’d think that getting the iTunes problem resolved would be easy, but I’ve failed to date. And it serves as an example of the overall problem ahead. I called the RIM customer help desk in Waterloo a couple of weeks ago for some support on the glitch, but the call centre agent wanted $49.99 to provide service for this specific problem (even though I hadn’t had any issue with syncing the 9900 Bold device on the same desktop with the same iTunes catalogue), and recommended that I speak to my carrier first in case it was covered by my warranty; at which point I’d be re-routed back to Waterloo for some free help. Although I’d started out trying to resolve it with my carrier, I now had to call them back to avoid the $50 charge. Turns out this type of customer care is not covered by my wireless contract, and the carrier offered me two choices to resolve it: a one-time service fee of $29.99 or a 12 month telephone service plan for something like $10 a month.

I hope I’m not calling every month, I thought.

The carrier’s support team tried to fix it, but in the end I gave up after more than 80 minutes on the phone. There’s only so much time in an evening that you can spend on such stuff. When we wound up, it was unclear if I’d still have to pay the $29.99 despite the issue being left unresolved. And I still have no music, with no prospect of that changing.

The lack of Q10 apps is astounding. Although BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins tells the media there are more than 90,000 apps, I can find not too many more than what was available for the 9900. Much is made of the availability of the tens of thousands of Android apps for the Q10, but for the life of me I can’t find them. All I want is something to follow stocks, and to find my favourite coffee shop. You’d think those two apps would be table stakes for a device being marketed at white collar office workers.

Ask a RIM executive, and they’ll say every customer wants a different app, and it’s a mugs game trying to please each and every one of us. In response, I’d suggest they stand in the middle of a trading floor on Bay Street or Wall Street: the marketshare of RIM and Starbucks is a hellavu lot higher than RIM’s current 1% U.S. standing in that key and profitable environment.

And all of my complaints could have been avoided (except for the iTunes problem I guess).

RIM should have had a focus group of, say, 12 or 20 people drawn from the key verticals that continue to care about the keyboard handset. Finance, investment banking, government, media, health care, public safety, etc. I have this image of semi-annual round tables with a senior leader from JP Morgan, CNBC, the DoD, Bristol Myers, Skadden Arps, Department of Homeland Security, Sunlife Insurance, etc. Even a soccer mom.

Each rep on this customer panel would invariably have 5 or 7 things that they just loved about their 9900, which had kept them and their 73 million compatriots satisfied over the past four or five years – even as RIM’s smartphone market share fell to single digits; versus probably 40% in 2002. As much as RIM needs to sell 20 or 40 million handsets each year to be truly happy, the Q10 crowd are the base upon which RIM could try to grow its brand again via devices such as the Z10 or the Q5. This is not a novel thought.

However, despite being given a couple of extra years to get the Q10 right, and for all of the good things it brings to the table, the many annoyances will continue to drive people away from the core offering. And that’s why I’m throwing in the towel. Waiting around for a M&A premium that may never come makes a lot less sense than backing another Canadian tech story that is far more likely, should Halogen’s management continue to perform, to see its shares appreciate over time.

Disclosure: I own HGN; as always, this post reflects a personal Opinion and is not to be taken as investment advice or a recommendation to buy or sell securities as I’m not licenced to give such advice)