What RIM Needs To Prove With BlackBerry 10

RIM's day of reckoning is almost here. Tomorrow, the once-mighty Canadian company will officially unveil its new BlackBerry 10 operating system, along with new hardware. It's a chance at rebirth, reinvention, and getting out from under its walking corpse reputation. But for that to happen, RIM needs to prove it's back on the right track.

Here are a few of the things we'll be looking for. If they all fall into place, we might just have a comeback on our hands. If not? Lights out.

1. Sustained, Efficient Performance

BlackBerry software has never been great, but it's almost always been efficient. Get in, get out, reply, forward, flag. Before any other features or functions, these are the things RIM has to lock down with the new QNX-based BB10. We've seen the makings of a highly efficient and thoughtful design in the demos — especially at CES — but software always looks good in demos. Let's see how it fares once it's loaded down with apps and gets blasted with a few thousand emails over the course of a week.

Further, launching a whole new operating system with a whole new code base is always going to run into some bumps along the way. But launching it into one of the most widely adopted business communication platforms means those bumps better be damn small, and smoothed over in a hurry.

We saw how widely a BlackBerry/BES outage affects the business world with the great BlackBerry outage of 2011. That went a long way to dinging RIM's reputation as a rock solid, reliable service. It was Buster Douglas punching thousands of IT departments in the crotch at once. And it simply cannot happen with this launch. BB10 has gone through a tortuous — and extensively delayed — release process, so a lot of bugs should presumably have been sussed out. But there are always more flaws and vulnerabilities waiting in the tall grass.

2. Knockout Hardware

The Z10 has to be as great as it looks. There's no room for an aw-shucks-we'll-get-them-next-time slop here. The renders we've seen are gorgeous, but now we need to see and touch and use it in person. All of those software usability questions from above roll into this, but there's more than that. The Z10 is RIM's shot at being desirable again, in the way iPhones and Galaxy S IIIs and Nexus 4s are desired.

But it has to go deeper than the Z10. RIM's QWERTY offering needs to be on point as well. There isn't too much to worry about here, since the BlackBerry Bold 9900 was the best BlackBerry ever made. But we would still have concerns about how the new software will interact with RIM's tried-and-true hardware. Will battery life take a hit? If the QWERTY models are using legacy designs, will there be a notable performance difference between them and the touchscreen versions? Most importantly: How will RIM navigate the inherent, inescapable fragmentation of running the same OS on two very different types of phones.

RIM has faced down that last problem before, with both the BlackBerry Storm catastrophes and the wayward Torch line. But it's hoping it has a better answer this time around. It's is similar to what Microsoft is facing with Windows RT and Windows 8, but made more complicated by the lack of screen space on QWERTY models. The Bold 9900 had a 2.8-inch display. The rumoured screen size for the Z10 is 4.2 inches. Design language just can't navigate differences like that. Probably. Maybe RIM has something remarkable up its sleeve, but however it's worked out, this will likely be a headache for developers. It won't go very far in helping along the next point.

3. A Compelling App Ecosystem

This one's obvious, but it needs to be said. BB10 will launch with Facebook and Twitter and, uhhh, 69,998 other apps that you don't know much about. Just looking at raw numbers, that's a fine start, but if you've spent any time on Windows Phone, you know that hundreds of thousands of apps doesn't replace optimised first-party support from the biggest apps people want.

Maybe those key apps are different for the BlackBerry crowd, and Instagram and Spotify's* assumed absences won't affect BB10 like it they do Windows Phone. (Yes, Spotify was on WP7, but the app remains unavailable on WP8 devices, probably owing to the fact that it was a third-party build sponsored by Microsoft.)

But what about more business-facing apps and services like LinkedIn (which is missing from integrated sharing options), or AutoCAD, or even OpenTable and Uber? Most of those apps are traditionally pretty good about getting onto new platforms. Whether they and others like them do for BB10 will go a long way to determining its viability. That necessity is buffered a bit by BB10's Android app-porting functionality, but it remains to be seen how effective and widely utilised that process is.

Even then, just having an app isn't enough. We need apps that give a crap. From the top down, developers need to buy into what RIM is doing here. That means optimising for both screen types, QWERTY and full touchscreen. It means building deep functionality into the Hub feature, and not just supplying surface level information there. It means, basically, going all the way in on this platform and not just putting out a sorta-good-enough lip service app that doesn't take advantage of all of BB10's new features. That hasn't really happened yet on Windows Phone 8 (though it's getting there). RIM needs to hope devs are more willing to take the plunge with BB10.

4. Make It Worth it

Price matters on smartphones, and coming out of the gates with a $US300 on-contract handset would be insane. But is the now-standard $US200 even too much? Windows Phone makers have made the gambit of pricing down some of the best phones, like the Lumia 920, to $US100. Affordable has been a winning strategy for Android, and it's even more important for BlackBerry devices, which need to be cost efficient at scale so IT managers feel their pockets cringe when considering a jump to iPhones or premium Android devices.

RIM has a long road ahead of it before finds solid ground. But delivering on these four conditions mean it's not an afterthought anymore; it's a serious part of the conversation. And for RIM, right now, that's everything.

Z10 renders: Martin Hajek/Flickr


Comments

    and a little bit more fanfare on Aussie release would be fricking nice RIM. No idea when they are or will be ! lets get real RIM !

      Windows Phone 8 which has both the backing of might of Microsoft and the multi-level channel logistics of Nokia still started with barely a purr of a cat in Australia. Would you expect anything more from RIM? Australia is a tiny market that no one is interested. RIM already stated they will concentrate on USA Canada and UK market at launch with parties and what nots. Nothing in Australia I'm afraid. They might have some little lounge music party somwhere in North Sydney, if at all.

        Can you really blame them? Our market may have a very high mobile ownership percentage per capita, but in raw numbers terms we're tiny. A company that is hoping to basically be re-born with this new product line and software is obviously going to try and attract customers in markets with millions of potential customers rather than tens of thousands.

    Really going to struggle with app eco system being so late to the game. Windows 8 is struggling because developers are now having to keep up with 4 ecosystems. If you look at the size of the pie pieces iOS and Android are always going to be a developers first targets.

      Except that BB has had an App Store for years. The only thing missing from Playbook is Kindle but there are plenty of other apps, some of which are really impressive. e.g. Need for Speed. The only issue I have with them is how freaking big they are. Some of the games are around 400Mb and even simple apps, things that are 1Mb for WinPhone, are rarely less than 10Mb.

    Just bought a lumia 920, no regrets at all. I worry about Rim

    I wish RIM all the best, but I can't see it happening with this phone. It looks like a solid phone, but it doesn't have anything on offer to make me contemplate switching. Tough market to crack - again.

      4-5 years too late.

    I was always a HTC user, until my phone broke a few months before the first iPhone came out. I bought a BB as an interim measure, and never once have i looked back. I bought a Samsung Galaxy 3 as a second phone, thinking i would slowly migrate after the delays releasing this phone.. But, it has stayed switched off in my handbag most of the time.. There are no other quality smart phones with a keypad.
    BB won't go under because it is timeless, high quality, and for people who need reliability above all else. There is a mature market who don't want a toy phone - and it might not be the size of the android market - but it is there.

    If the BB9900 was the best they made, then they better hope they improve. My BB9900 is a piece of crap, doesn't turn off properly, keyboard is not good (eg. likes to put two spaces when you press the space bar once), battery doesn't last, web pages don't render properly, can't read all attachments (doesn't render tables in Word docs), will not charge with various USB charges (I think it only likes its own chargers or USB hub, won't work with 1Ah chargers even though any iPhone or Android phone will work with my 1ah and 2.1Ah chargers). The company is gladly replacing mine next week with an iPhone, because they're overwhelmed with BB support calls.

    Last edited 31/01/13 3:27 am

    Their phones are lacking the wow factor and point of difference. Also, where are the navigation apps? How about what video and audio files are supported? They must stop aiming their devices at business people and widen their audience to include those that want to use it for content consumption, content production, navigation, etc etc.

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