Top 4 Risks to BlackBerry 10

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Almost everyone is rooting for BlackBerry these days. The users want real keyboards, combined with a modern operating system. The carriers want competition to Google ( GOOG), Apple ( AAPL) and Microsoft ( MSFT). The journalists want a fight. Even Wall Street is suddenly blowing life into the RIM ( RIMM) BlackBerry story.

So we all want the new BlackBerry 10 to succeed. The two initial products -- one pure touchscreen and the other in the traditional BlackBerry keyboard form factor -- will be shown in their final form on Jan. 30. Based on reading the tea leaves, I believe the touchscreen-only version will be in stores by March and the keyboard version by May.

As much as we are rooting for RIM to regain its former glory, however, we have to be aware of the potential potholes that may be lurking ahead. I hereby outline the top four risks for RIM in terms of its BlackBerry 10 launch:

1. Contracts required. BlackBerry 10 is "last call" for RIM, at least in many countries. Many people have already left, mostly for Apple and Google smartphones, while others maintain two phones but are looking to consolidate to one. Yet others might be willing to sample BlackBerry 10 before they decide.

What could RIM do to throw cold water on its last chance in the market? How about requiring a two-year contract for its new, unproven, platform? Exactly. If RIM really wants to pick up a gun and shoot a big hole through its head to punctuate its last chance for survival, it should sell BlackBerry 10 through carriers requiring you to sign a two-year contract on an unproven platform.

If BlackBerry 10 is going to have a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding, it must do what Google did with its Nexus, or what Apple does with its iPhone: Offer the option to sell a carrier-independent device, SIM-unlocked and contract-free, directly from its own Web site, as well as Amazon ( AMZN), Best Buy ( BBY) and so forth.

People want to try BlackBerry 10. They don't want to sign a two-year contract for the privilege to sample an unproven platform.

2. Special plans required. One of the most annoying things about BlackBerry to date has been that it needs a special data plan for the data service. You can't just stick a regular generic data SIM card from an Android or iPhone into a BlackBerry, and expect the data service to work. You need to change the carrier's data plan, and it sometimes costs more.

Actually, the problem here isn't that it costs more -- it doesn't have to -- but just the fact that you need to change the plan with the carrier. For people who switch SIM cards between devices often, this is a total no-no.

That was BlackBerry of the past, operating system 7.1 and older. But what about BlackBerry 10? We don't know. RIM has not said if their new devices will need a special BlackBerry-only data plan or not. For RIM's sake, it had better not.

3. Someone else launches a great keyboard smartphone. Hello? Ask BlackBerry users why they still use one, and I imagine that almost 100% of them say the superior keyboard is the reason.

With the stiff competition breathing down their necks on all other fronts, RIM had better pray that an Android or Microsoft smartphone doesn't hit the market soon with a competitive keyboard. If that happens, it's likely all over for RIM.

4. Insufficient app support. This is a well-recognized hurdle. Even giant Microsoft, with tens of billions of dollars in the bank and a willingness to spend it on developers, is terribly behind Android and iOS in terms of the apps.

I have been using Windows Phone 8 for over six weeks, and I have been using Windows Phone 7.5 for over a year. The app quantity as well as the quality are simply not in the same league as Android and iOS.

The basic Windows Phone OS is fine enough -- as BlackBerry 10 could very well be -- but for me it's just not a competitive option as long as many of the critical apps simply aren't available, and others are inferior to the versions playing on Android and iOS.

Advice for RIM: Take Every Advantage You Can

Some factors are beyond RIM's control. For example, it's probably doing everything in its powers to convince developers to join the BlackBerry 10 platform, and if the competition gets its thumb out of its butt and launches a great keyboard device -- well, too bad.

But there are other things RIM can do to maximize BlackBerry 10's probability for success regardless. Here is one simple area of advice:

Make versions of BB 10 with really, really big batteries.

BlackBerry is all about serious people, whether they are working for a large enterprise or they are independent professionals and contractors. Nobody buys a BlackBerry because they think they are "cool" or a participant in a fashion show. They buy them because they are a power tool.

You know what the most un-cool thing is about a power tool? Being out of power, that is what.

RIM should advertise the BlackBerry 10 keyboard smartphone as the device where you can do to the Hamptons for a week-long vacation, or survive a week under a hurricane, without needing to charge the device. Instead of a 1,400-1,900 mAh battery, a BlackBerry 10 should come with an integrated 5,000 mAh or bigger battery. Hurricane Sandy should be a BlackBerry commercial.

You should be able to talk and email incessantly for a week or more -- not seven hours as with my current BlackBerry. Seven days, not seven hours.

Nobody will complain that the device would be 4 millimeters thicker than it otherwise would have been.

RIM botched the PlayBook launch in March-April 2011 in the most epic set of ways imaginable, and it was obvious to everyone outside the company. It was like watching a car crash live.

RIM now has the capability to botch the BlackBerry 10 launch too: Just ensure that in order to buy BlackBerry 10, you have to sign a two-year contract, that you have to have a special data plan to operate it, and that it offers no significant battery life advantage over the competition.

If RIM can just clear BlackBerry 10 off those mine-fields, and the competition doesn't finally emerge with a competitive keyboard, BB 10 could become successful even with a moderate application catalog deficit.

We are all rooting for RIM now: Don't screw this one up.

At the time of publication, the author was long GOOG and AAPL.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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