How BlackBerry 10 can snatch RIM from the jaws of death
After much ado and a mammoth incubation period, Research In Motion’s highly anticipated BlackBerry 10 operating system is set to debut Wednesday at a planned event in New York.
The big question for RIM and its fans is whether BlackBerry 10—and the first handsets to use the new OS—will be enough to propel the beleaguered company into the modern smartphone age and back into the game as a competitor.
We will liveblog the big RIM BlackBerry 10 launch on Wednesday and then follow up with hands-on reports.
What’s known so far
RIM has showcased early versions of the BlackBerry 10 software, but the company has been mum on the specifics for the first phones that will ship with the new OS.
Rumors peg one 4G model, the Z10, as a 4.2-inch phone with a screen resolution of 1280 by 768 pixels, a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and 16GB of storage. Another model reportedly will be smaller and have a physical keyboard—a nod to RIM’s "CrackBerry" QWERTY keyboard past.
Although RIM’s big unveil happens Wednesday, we don’t expect the company to announce immediate availability. RIM has already said that on the same day it will provide developers with an updated version of the BlackBerry 10 SDK and OS for its seeded BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha A and B testing devices.
This update will be a significant one, and it will include access to the universal inbox that RIM calls the BlackBerry Hub, as well as to the phone and Maps applications.
The BlackBerry Hub is one of the highlights of the new, modernized BlackBerry 10. The hub organizes a user's email, texts, BlackBerry Messenger messages, and social network notifications in one central location. This feature appears very promising and convenient—and unlike anything currently available on Android, iOS, or Windows Phone 8.
Now, let's reflect on how RIM got to this point.
Signs of life?
Nearly a year ago the Internet was flooded with headlines proclaiming “A Requiem for RIM” and "Put RIM on a Death Watch." These days the company is finally showing signs of life.
That people are paying attention to RIM in 2013 demonstrates a latent interest in what the company is up to. Is it because the smartphone world is eager to see the final nail in the coffin for one of the industry’s former shining stars?
Perhaps—or maybe it’s because everyone loves a good comeback story, and we’re truly interested in seeing whether RIM will deliver on the innovations that it promises with BlackBerry 10.
Clearly, the buzz about whether RIM can halt the steep decline of its market share is running high this month. And the decline is truly steep—down to just 5.3 percent in 2012, according to Gartner, which is, in turn, down about 50 percent from the previous year.
The buzz also may be coming from the many prerelease testers who have used betas of the BlackBerry 10 software and its companion handsets. They are now coming out of the woodwork to weigh in.
RIM says that it has seeded prerelease BlackBerry 10 devices into more than 120 corporate installations. This could be a smart move: If the company has any chance of shoring up its position, that chance lies squarely with the corporate market.
In an era where phones using Google's Android operating system comprise 65 percent of the global smartphone market, and the iPhone has 21 percent, is there room for RIM to—as CEO Thorsten Heins once indicated was the goal—battle for third?
Given the lackluster reception for Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8, introduced in late 2012, the opportunity still exists. There is a pervasive sense that, although some corporations have embraced Windows Phone 8, even more businesses (particularly those with existing BlackBerry installations) are in a holding pattern until they hear details on BlackBerry 10.
Meanwhile, others are moving toward Apple’s iPhone, judging from recent business-app trends that started as part of the bring-your-own-device revolution.
Why not Windows Phone 8?
The problem with Windows Phone 8 is that, in spite of solid launch hardware from HTC and Nokia, consumers just aren't buying the phones.
More important, the app selection for Windows Phone 8, or the lack thereof, remains an issue.
Some developers have found that porting apps to Windows Phone 8 is more difficult in the real world than Microsoft first promised. That, coupled with Windows Phone 8’s lack of a large installation base, continues to leave that mobile OS in the dark when it comes to hot new apps, or even basic apps such as Dropbox.
In contrast, RIM has been proactive in helping developers port their apps over to BlackBerry 10. According to RIM, more than 40,000 apps were introduced during five recent "Port-A-Thons." This means that early BlackBerry 10 users can expect a healthy number of apps to start with at the newly rechristened BlackBerry World app store. And given Windows Phone 8’s stumbles, that leaves a window, so to speak, for BlackBerry to retain relevance.
RIM’s 2013 challenge
The big issue for RIM is that it will be easy for the company to make a lot of noise only now, in this dead-of-winter, post-International CES period before Mobile World Congress, the giant trade show that starts in Barcelona, Spain, on February 25.
RIM's window of opportunity is narrow: We expect most major mobile-device makers to announce new wares in Barcelona. And you can be sure that RIM’s competition will be watching this week, ready to grab any RIM innovations they can for integration into their own products.
If the spacing between BlackBerry 10's launch and its actual ship is too long, RIM runs the risk of losing relevance and any edge it may have gained. In fact, that scenario would echo the mistakes of another laggard underdog: HP’s Palm division.
To recap: Back in February 2011, HP announced its Pre 3 and Veer phones, as well as the company's shiny new WebOS. HP then took until May to launch the Veer. By late August, when the Pre 3 was finally in reviewers’ hands, HP cancelled the platform and the phone.
However, if RIM can nail its launch—and if its devices are strong and not head-scratchers like 2011’s BlackBerry Torch—RIM might just vault itself into the limelight again, and for the right reasons.
Only then will the company have a chance to weigh its bigger corporate strategies, whether they involve licensing the OS to other handset makers or selling components of the company to potential suitors.
Whether RIM will ever get back to its CrackBerry heights is unclear. But, like you, we want to see if BlackBerry 10 has a chance.