We’ve been waiting a long time for BlackBerry 10 and it’s widely perceived as the last roll of the dice for RIM. The BlackBerry brand has fallen behind the competition as iOS and Android have carved up the smartphone market between them. When we last pointed out that BlackBerry wasn’t dead yet, in the summer, the share price was languishing below $8 and it has been steadily climbing since then, almost hitting $15 as the new platform comes into sight on the horizon.
Thorsten Heins replaced co-CEOs Balsillie and Lazaridis almost exactly a year ago and he decided that the new platform would not be rushed. Despite the pressure on the company, he recognized that another poor update would make things worse. At BlackBerry World last May he said “I want this BlackBerry 10 to be perfect.”
It’s worth remembering that RIM has actually been adding subscribers in the last few months. Market share has dwindled, but the smartphone market has been growing fast enough to mask that. It was only last quarter that RIM lost subscribers for the first time, down from 80 to 79 million. The company has laid off thousands, restructured, and amassed a $2.9 billion war chest to launch the new platform. There can be no doubt that BlackBerry 10 has to succeed if RIM’s future is to be healthy, but we’ve heard enough doomsaying. Here are a few reasons why BB 10 might just surprise everyone and put RIM back in the game.
Securing the enterprise
For Fortune 500 companies and government agencies across the world BlackBerry has always been the platform of choice. RIM forgot its base with BlackBerry 7 as ill-advised and rushed attempts to court the mass market damaged the brand. The company will not make the same mistake again. The BlackBerry platform still has a solid reputation in the business world for a high level of security and reliability. BlackBerry Enterprise Server, BES, is a powerful tool for IT departments.
RIM just reported that 1,600 companies have already signed up for BlackBerry 10 training. Prospects for BB 10 in the enterprise are bright and its biggest rivals, Android and iOS, are consumer-focused first, with businesses clocking a distant second. Windows Phone 8 could be BB 10’s only real competition in this space.
Dividing work and play
Thinking about the enterprise goes beyond secure email and enterprise apps. RIM has also included a separation between Personal and Work modes so users can switch between them at a touch. Personal mode allows you to install whatever apps or games you want and deal with personal email in an encrypted partition. Work mode is a separate partition that can be locked down by your employer. It’s a clever solution to the company subsidized smartphone and the BYOD trend. Your employer can exert some control over the Work side of your device while your Personal partition is beyond their control.
Standing out from the crowd
We’ve seen plenty of predictions about Microsoft finally hitting its stride in mobile with Windows Phone 8 and one reason you’ll see frequently being cited is that it’s different from the present incumbents, Android and iOS. That’s one of the best things about BlackBerry 10 – it’s a genuine alternative, not a weak copy. It will look familiar to Android, iOS, or WP8 users, but feel very different to use. The integration of gestures, the speed, the active frames, the general flow between apps and services; it all appears to be well-thought out and intuitive to use. It’s also important to note that BB 10 isn’t missing any major feature that’s standard on Android or iOS.
If people are bored or frustrated by Android or iOS then BB 10 could easily catch their attention as a viable alternative.
RIM understands the importance of attracting developers to the platform and establishing a decent pool of apps for new BB 10 customers. There’s no way the platform is going to catch up with iOS and Android at the 700,000 plus mark, but who needs 700,000 apps? As long as the big apps are all present and correct and there’s a decent choice in BlackBerry App World customers will be happy.
At the weekend RIM was able to attract 15,000 app submissions by offering $100 for every ported app which is accepted and offered for sale in the BB 10 app store. Other incentives include the chance to win BB 10 development handsets and trips to developer conferences. RIM also set aside $10 million to offer developers with apps that exceed 100 downloads and earn at least $1,000 a guaranteed top up to $10,000. The aim is to launch with 70,000 apps and that would be unprecedented for a new platform.
A loyal fan base
Can RIM persuade the 79 million subscribers it has right now to upgrade to BB 10? Even a percentage of those customers upgrading would give the new platform a great start. Then you have to consider all the BlackBerry fans who switched to iOS and Android in the last few years. Some of them won’t be coming back, but not everyone is enamored with the market leaders. The BlackBerry name still has a lot of goodwill and if RIM can present a decent proposition with BB 10, it will tempt some customers back.
The Hub: a universal inbox
Forget about dipping in and out of multiple apps. The BlackBerry Hub is a truly universal inbox. It can suck in multiple email accounts, call history, BBM, text messages, popular third-party apps like Whats App, as well as social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. With built-in calendar functions, this is your one-stop shop for new information and it could be a real time-saver. If you fear information overload don’t worry because it’s easy to filter for the accounts you want to check.
Part of the reason that BB 10 flows so well is the focus on multitasking. Dropping in and out of apps to deal with notifications is a pain point for smartphone users. With BB 10, you can swipe to take a peek at your inbox without leaving the current app. If you swipe left to right you’ll see the other apps that are running in the background and you can switch quickly. Even the home screen focuses on recently used apps and you can have up to nine applications active simultaneously.
That trademark physical keyboard
There’s no doubt that touchscreens are here to stay, but some people will always prefer a physical keyboard on their smartphone and RIM make the best in the business. The quality and feel of the BlackBerry keyboard is unmatched and that will attract a niche audience to choose BB 10. The platform is said to launch with a full touchscreen phone and another touch phone with a QWERTY.
It’s also worth pointing out that RIM has worked on the touchscreen keyboard in BB 10 so it is well-spaced, accurate, offers decent predictive text, and even simultaneous multi-language support. It’s already one of our favorite touch keyboards.
BlackBerry Messenger was once a killer feature for the platform and it could be set to take center stage in BB 10. The real-time chat client is going to expand on instant messaging to include voice calls over Wi-Fi. RIM has also worked on BBM Connected which is about integrating other apps like Facebook. If the rumored video chat and screen sharing functionality is thrown into the mix then BBM could be a killer feature again.
Embracing the new
There are a couple of features that signal RIM’s willingness to embrace new trends. The most notable is perhaps the camera app and something the company is calling “Timeshift.” When you take a photo you can rewind or fast forward via a dial to pick the best facial expression and a slider lets you pick the best pose to create a composite image that’s just the one you want. If it works well then it could be a great feature.
We’re also hearing that BB 10 will support NFC and mobile payments thanks to a partnership with Visa. The rise of mobile payments has long been predicted, but so far it has failed to catch on in a major way. RIM could be jumping onboard with this at just the right time and Visa is a great company to partner with in this space.
You can check out the new platform for yourself from January 30, but if you can’t wait then you should take a look at our BlackBerry 10 hands-on. One way or another 2013 is shaping up to be a big year for RIM.