Smartphones

Can BlackBerry 10 be RIM's thumb-driven saviour?

RIM has pinned its hopes on BlackBerry 10 taking the number three position in mobiles, and more.

"We are fighting," proclaimed Thorsten Heins, CEO and president of Research In Motion, at the end of his keynote at BlackBerry Jam Americas.

While the jury is out on whether the fight can be won, at least it is an improvement to the atmosphere of last year's BlackBerry DevCon, when it appeared that RIM would go quietly into the night.

As details of BlackBerry 10 continue to slowly leek out, it's not all doom and gloom for the Canadian vendor.

In the short term, Heins stated that RIM wants to be the number three smartphone ecosystem. He says that carriers have told him that they want another option, and that RIM has a leg-up on Microsoft in the race for third, as it has an existing user base — 80 million users, to be precise.

Taking a longer view, RIM wants to become a leader in mobile computing, and sees BlackBerry 10 as the first step to reaching that goal.

BlackBerry 10 is centred around the platform's "flow," which aims to give the user an experience that removes the need to start and switch applications, and instead can be driven by a single finger with a series of swipes and gestures that pull in BB10's "Hub" notification area. The intent is to remove the need for the user to start apps and, instead, "flow" between apps seamlessly. Many demonstrations shown during the keynote were driven purely via a single thumb input.


RIM CEO and president Thorsten Heins shows off his input device.

At least this time, RIM is choosing to play to its strengths.

RIM has chosen to address the BYOD needs of enterprises by improving BlackBerry Balance, to include a per-enterprise version of BlackBerry App World that allows enterprises to dictate which applications can be installed in the "Work" profile.

In February this year, I stated that RIM's PlayBook was an enterprise tablet that was incorrectly aimed at consumers. And while many of the PlayBook's enterprise features have found their way into BlackBerry 10, they are wrapped in a package that now contains music and video purchasing, and gives the company an outside chance of attracting consumers that are not interested in BYOD.

From a sysadmin perspective, the new Balance improves on a system that was already attractive. For companies that still retain their existing infrastructure and BlackBerry rollouts, being up-sold to a BlackBerry 10 device should be a piece of cake.

Another investment that RIM has thrown its weight behind is HTML5 support in BB10's browser. More than one executive in today's keynote crowed over the new browser that supports more of the HTML5 standard than any browser found on a mobile yet, and indeed, RIM stressed that its support is better than any desktop browser, too.

From a framework point of view, the company has submitted its BB10 theme for inclusion into jQuery Mobile, and treats HTML5 has a true first class citizen of its ecosystem.

In an Inception-style example of eating one's own dog food, it was revealed that the platform's browser was not a native C/C++ application, but is written in HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS. Without prior knowledge of that fact, it would be almost impossible to determine whether the C/C++/Cascades framework or HTML5/JavaScript framework was used.

One of the more impressive demonstrations in the keynote was the introduction of BlackBerry 10's new predictive text framework. The framework provides a new way to enter words by swiping up on the letter on which the predicted word is overlayed upon (see this image) and, more impressive, supports the ability to switch languages mid-sentence and still make reasonable predictions.


Predictive text demonstration. (Click to enlarge)

The big question that still lingers a year later, though, is when will BlackBerry 10 be released?

Heins said that BlackBerry 10 is "on track," and that devices will start to be sent to carriers next month. Officially, the launch date is still the nebulous "first quarter of 2013".

For developers, the dates are a wee bit clearer. The current batch of beta toolchain updates released today — HTML5, C/C++/QT/Cascades, Adobe Air, Android player — are labelled as final API compatible. The final gold SDK release is slated to be in the hands of developers before year's end.

Developers wishing to take advantage of RIM's 10k Developer Commitment — a program where, if developers are certified by RIM and write an app that doesn't hit $10,000 in revenue in a year after reaching $1000 of revenue, then RIM will step up to pay the gap to the developer — must have their apps submitted to App World by January 21, 2013.

Thorsten Heins said that he wants BlackBerry 10 to shape the next ten years of mobile computing, in the same manner that BlackBerry shaped the previous ten years. But before the company can think about reaching that point, it needs a successful BB10 launch.

Can the company do it?

Serve me up a couple of doses of scepticism and a sandwich of criticism before declaring that this is the magic moment where RIM turns into the phoenix of the mobile industry.

Heins said that he is glad the company took the hard decision to go the difficult route of maintaining control of its own platform and, therefore, its own destiny, and that the company is only a few months from reaching its target to re-imagine mobile computing.

BlackBerry 10 is the most important launch in RIM's history, because if it fails, so will the company.

If it does fall, at least the company can be proud that it went out swinging — which is a vast improvement on the where the company has been in the past.

Chris Duckett attended BlackBerry Jam Americas as a guest of RIM.

About

Some would say that it is a long way from software engineering to journalism, others would correctly argue that it is a mere 10 metres according to the floor plan.During his first five years with CBS Interactive, Chris started his journalistic advent...

7 comments
kristenxu88
kristenxu88

Since I use my first BlackBerry Curve Touch , I was shocked by the amazing phone. For a long time it was a thing that I can show off. haha....

Liv&DieN; LA
Liv&DieN; LA

A sad death for a once very capable company.

d_baron
d_baron

and I hope that their success does not depend on Obama's re-election :-) (Oh, no, I will not do without my Blackberry!)

Sagax-
Sagax-

I would like them to be successful. They , if not the founders, were at least the inspiration for "Smart Phones". They have also been around long enough (pre-existing technology) that they should not be hounded by the patent trolls.

Liv&DieN; LA
Liv&DieN; LA

I have been riding a commuter train for 7 years, at least 80 percent of the riders are career types, IT, Law, Advertising. Over the years I have seen the trends in mobile phones change first hand. When I first started riding the train I was watching Nextel die...and Blackberry flourish. For the last few years I have been seeing iPhones and Androids breed like mad, and I have seen Blackberry become Nextel. Mark my words, December 31st there will be thousands of Blackberry servers powered down for the last time. I pity the IT Admins that have to keep one running for one or two users that don't mind being in a one way love affair.

Dyalect
Dyalect

If these new phones / o/s are through the roof and we still have no applications/games they will fail regardless. Blackberry really has to bite the bullet and show some decency towards the user that stuck with them during the barrage of "better" android/apple products. If another pricey RIM product is on the market they will surely fail. The move away from blackberries is already starting by the corporate world.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Another competitor would be good.