BLACKBERRY may have sounded its own death knell among small business users.
The phone maker has ditched a feature that lets them push e-mail messages directly to their devices without having to install expensive software and hardware that bigger companies would need for their staff to access such messages.
The company's new Z10 and Q10 smartphones do not support this BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS), which is hosted by SingTel, StarHub and M1.
For the service, users just need to pay a flat monthly fee to any of the three telcos, which have the tools to hook up with BlackBerry's servers.
There are understood to be 50,000 BIS users in Singapore, who will no longer be able to use the service if they upgrade to the new models.
While BlackBerry said that BIS would continue to be offered on its older devices, some industry watchers felt the game could be up for small business customers.
"If forced to choose, some may not buy a new BlackBerry phone," said one market watcher, who declined to be named.
IT consultancy services boss Khoo Chin Hang, 35, said he may switch to another phone maker when the time comes to change.
"That will probably be the end of the push e-mail service that I've become addicted to," he said.
For now, he plans to hang on to his current BlackBerry to continue using BIS, which he has been relying on for the past six years.
BlackBerry - formerly known as Research In Motion - launched its Z10 touchscreen smartphone on March 7. It sells for about $900.
Q10, which has a physical keyboard, is expected to be released in Singapore in May.
The devices sport the new BlackBerry 10 operating system, in what some analysts say is a last-ditch attempt to save the company following sharp declines in recent years.
It has been threatened by the rise of snazzy smartphones that provide users with a similar push e-mail system.
A BlackBerry spokesman based in Singapore said the company's future is in smartphones with multimedia entertainment capabilities.
"Customers are more inclined to carry smartphones that will keep them entertained while travelling, like watching movies and playing mobile games," he said.
The new BlackBerry 10 operating system is similar to the Google Android and Apple iOS platforms, which offer a plethora of third-party apps.
Users did not expect BlackBerry 10 to discontinue its support for BIS.
Diehards like Mr Khoo are adamant about one key difference: E-mail is automatically downloaded to BlackBerry devices round the clock.
Most smartphones are able to provide instant notification of the latest incoming messages but these are not downloaded until users click on the e-mail app.
Some of these smartphones also allow users to "fetch" their latest e-mail at regular intervals of 15 or 30 minutes.
The automatic e-mail download feature of BIS was a key selling point, and is handy in places where a 3G connection is unreliable.
Lawyer Anil Lalwani, 39, who has been using BIS for seven years, said: "With my BlackBerry, I know I can get my e-mails even if 3G connections are bad."
BIS is offered by all three telcos for as little as $13.90 per month for 1GB of data.
Subscribers must also buy a separate voice plan.
This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 20, 2013
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