We won't see phones or tablets running it until later this year, but developers can now get their hands on an early version of BlackBerry 10. Will it be enough to save Research In Motion (RIM) — and does it really need saving anyway? Gizmodo and Lifehacker debate the future for BlackBerry.
Lifehacker: It's not news around here that I am a heavy BlackBerry user — quite possibly the heaviest BlackBerry user in Australia. So I have a greater interest in what happens to BlackBerry than the average casual Android user, or rabid Apple fanboys with their comment guns set on auto-troll.
In the press announcement, RIM talks up how the new platform will enable developers to create "cutting-edge apps that deliver truly engaging experiences and ‘wow' customers". I'm not actually sure that's what I want. I like my BlackBerry because it works efficiently and effectively, and because it has a keyboard that works better than any of its rivals. But maybe that blurs my perspective. Did any of the announced features in BlackBerry 10 wow you, Alex?
Gizmodo: I quite like the camera — or at least the way that the camera is meant to work, having taken more than my fair share of terrible smartphone camera shots over time. The idea of being able to scrub back along the timeline to make a shot better has a lot of appeal — but it's the kind of thing that has been demonstrated by Scalado previously, and I've no doubt that developers on rival platforms will now be working up their own version of the same thing. Depending on when actual BB10 phones reach actual consumers, it could well end up being rather dated.
It's also a very consumer-facing technology, and that runs with the kind of market that RIM's tried to attract for some time now (with varying success; arguably less here than in some overseas markets. I can't quite see the big business appeal for the camera feature, beyond perhaps some clearer industrial espionage. I guess I've never been that taken with a Blackberry camera before. Do you use the camera on your Blackberry all that much?
LH: I do — but that's because it's the camera I will always have with me, not because it's the last word in photographic brilliance. The photos it produces are acceptable, but certainly not extraordinary. Undoubtedly that would improve with new hardware anyway (my existing phone is getting on for 18 months old, which is Flintstones-like in smartphone terms).
But on a related hardware note, I do like the idea that BlackBerry 10 apps will run on both the PlayBook and BlackBerry phones. I use my PlayBook most days, but it's rare for me to get outside the browser. Having an expanded source of apps would definitely make it more versatile. I also like the idea that the "flow" mechanisms for switching between apps on the PlayBook, which work really well, will come to the BlackBerry.
One niche but impressive-sounding option is the ability for apps to monitor battery state and warn users if what they're doing might not get finished before the battery runs out. That's a feature I'd like to see emulated on every platform. Anything else in there you think others should copy?
Giz: Not a lot — as yet — but then I'd need some hands-on time to perhaps grasp any more subtleties. I think this points to the other problem that RIM faces with Blackberry 10; a lot of what was announced overnight are features that RIM can do well, but they're not exactly unique. Multi-tasking apps? Very nice. Reminder panels? Very nice. But not unique, and not something that will necessarily set the market alight, because they're factors that other phones already cover. BB10 may have architectural underpinnings that make those features more efficient, but that's not what a consumer in a phone shop will look at.
I love the hardware on the Playbook, and the operating system works smoothly for basic tablet operations. Nothing wrong with the Playbook, and if BB10 can bring that kind of smooth operation to RIM's smartphones, all the better. But that's probably not enough. I don't use my Playbook every day, because what it does I can do a little better (and more besides) on an iPad. You say you're currently use your Playbook every day, but basically just as a bigger browser. That won't get customers flocking back when they've not exactly taken to the Playbook in droves, and the same could well be true for BB10, whenever we see it.
Apps might, and I do like that RIM is attacking the developer problem in a bold (pun not intended) way; if your BB10-certified app doesn't make $10,000 in its first year, they'll pay you the difference above $1,000. That cuts out the crapware apps and encourages excellence — although it does make me wonder if there wouldn't be a side business in developing a simple $1 app, buying exactly 1000 copies and then profiting nine grand at RIM's expense. Am I just thinking with too much of an evil mindframe?
LH: I bet you won't be the first person to have that thought. I'm also a fan of developer outreach, though apps aren't always the whole story. (People often forget that there were no apps on the original iPhone, for instance.)
People also forget that there are still a lot of BlackBerry users out there. According to Gartner, last year Apple sold 89 million phones. RIM sold 51 million. That's a lower number, but it's hardly a number reflecting a complete indifference to the platform either.
The big risk I think BlackBerry is taking is that by de-emphasising the stuff it does really well, like hardware keyboards and enterprise security, in favour of an area where it's clearly coming from behind (apps), it might end up pleasing no-one. So I'm really hoping that when actual BlackBerry 10 handsets are announced, that there's still a Torch-like keyboard model in there. I guess we'll know soon enough.
Giz: I'm not sure the original iPhone is a good comparison point, if only because its competitors were largely feature phones, and there were a lot of jailbroken apps prior to the original 3G — some of which ended up as "proper" apps later — but I know what you're getting at.
Final hardware will tell the total story, and it's well worth re-emphasising that the devices that have been shown off aren't final hardware, and they're not even running BB10; they're a modified Playbook OS designed for developers to start work on.
I do wonder about the virtual keyboard thing, though. RIM's pedigree in this area isn't great (to put it kindly), and whenever I've been asked to name the two biggest strengths of the Blackberry platform, it's always been the excellent mail facility (which presumably won't change) and the great hardware keyboards. BB10 doesn't seem to focus on the latter at all, and in an area where there's a lot of competition already.