BlackBerry 10 Smartphones Raise Glimmer of Hope for Renamed RIM

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-01-31

BlackBerry 10 Smartphones Raise Glimmer of Hope for Renamed RIM

The BlackBerry 10 launch event was one of those conflicted events that seem to dog the smartphone maker. On one hand, it was good to see that BlackBerry had finally developed the device to the point that it's solid enough that the company feels confident in releasing it. On the other hand, this wasn't the over-the-top extravaganza that everyone has come to expect with major smartphone launches from companies such as Apple and Microsoft.

Perhaps it was the lack of presentational hype that caused BlackBerry's stock to slide by 6 percent after the announcement before starting to recover. Or maybe it was because investors weren't sure what they were seeing and didn't have Steve Jobs or Steve Ballmer around to tell them how beautiful it is. Instead, what they had was a group of engineers and geeks telling everyone about their cool new phone.

So let's get past the ephemeral nature of hype and think about whether BlackBerry 10 is good enough to save the company. It's worth mentioning now that we're not talking about Research In Motion. The company name was officially changed to BlackBerry, something that was also announced at the launch event.

While the company name change will certainly help with brand recognition, there's a lot more than the name to this launch. The BlackBerry 10 devices need to be good enough to accomplish two goals. First, it needs to retain existing BlackBerry users who might otherwise drift away to Apple and Android devices. Second, they have to be good enough to get former BlackBerry users to come back and induce new users to sign up for a BlackBerry 10 device.

To answer the first question, if the BlackBerry 10 works as well as it appears to work from the launch event, it will certainly slow if not halt the migration of BlackBerry users to other platforms. From the looks of it, the touch-screen Z10 delivers everything it needs to be an excellent phone. It's about the same size and shape (and a similar appearance) as the Nokia Lumia 810, with its 4.2-inch screen and that's a very nice looking phone. The other version of the BlackBerry 10, called the Q10, looks much like a current BlackBerry Bold 9900, but with a bigger 3.1-inch screen.

But what makes the BlackBerry different is the way it works. The QNX-based device does true multi-tasking. You can open several programs at once, move between them as you wish and those programs continue to run in the background.

BlackBerry 10 Smartphones Raise Glimmer of Hope for Renamed RIM

There's a "peek" feature that lets you slide whatever is on the screen aside to see what else is going on. The fact that you don't need to go to a home button to start and stop apps is going to be a huge convenience if it works as well as it seemed to in the demonstrations.

Another feature that makes life easier for users is what the company calls the BlackBerry Hub, which is a step up from the current unified-messaging feature. Basically, you get the same single inbox with everything from Twitter to email and text messages in one place, but you can do more with what's there. What's better is that you can control all of this with one hand using only your thumb.

Of course, BlackBerry's sweet spot is the enterprise, and here the company has introduced something that IT managers will love, BlackBerry Balance. This builds on the existing ability to set up some BlackBerry device models as two independent halves, one personal and one for business. The IT shop can control the business half, and information from one side of the BlackBerry can't leak to the other. This solves a number of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and security issues. It also means that BlackBerry 10 users don't need to carry two devices, one for work and one for personal use.

But the question as to whether this is enough to enable RIM—pardon me—BlackBerry to turn the company around hinges on a number of factors. First, is the BlackBerry user experience sufficiently better than Android, iOS or Windows to win converts? Second is the collection of apps and content enough to satisfy customers?

To some extent I won't know those answers until I get my hands on a BlackBerry 10 device, an event that may happen fairly soon. Then I'll be able to know if everything really works as well as the company claims and if the device's features work as seamlessly as they did in the demonstrations.

It will also depend on whether the app experience is good enough to raise interest among users. The movies will have to be good enough, the apps functional enough and the browser fast enough for someone to lay out a couple hundred bucks (with a contract) to buy one. Right now, we know that BlackBerry has something like 70,000 apps already in the app store and has agreements with all of the major content providers.

But will it be enough? Right now, I don't know. I hope it is because the enterprise needs good, secure, enterprise-grade smartphones that meet current user expectations. But a lot depends on whether those customers think it's good enough.

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