BlackBerry World: Can BlackBerry 10 Save RIM?

Posted on May 1, 2012

At the BlackBerry World (BBW) developer conference today, RIM showed off some of the new features coming to the latest version of their operating system. There is a lot riding on this as it will either enable RIM to stay in the game or seal their death warrant.

The big question: from what we’ve seen so far, can we determine that RIM has done enough to save the company?

In order to respond to the question, we really need to define what we feel RIM needs to do to “save the company.” Here are four key criteria:

1.Focus on corporate and government customers over the medium term.
2.Provide a user experience that doesn’t suck.
3.Deliver excellent quality hardware.
4.Enable an app ecosystem.

From the video streamed from BBW today, there was no announcement on the hardware. Only a developer oriented prototype was shown, which incidentally looked a lot like an iPhone 4S. The new BlackBerries to be launched this fall/autumn could be radically different. Therefore we cannot comment on point 3.

As for point number four, apart from Heins suggesting that the developers were important, there was no particular mention of the tooling available for BlackBerry 10. This may come during other sessions at the conference.

Looking at point 2: does the user experience suck? It was hard to tell from the demonstrations, but what we could tell was that RIM was trying to innovate, and that its innovations are interesting. RIM is introducing a keyboard that not only learn your typing style and adapts to it, but it can also suggest whole words you may want to type. That’s a really good idea and I’m delighted to see this kind of innovation from RIM (see the video below for a demonstration).

In addition, RIM showcased the ability to adapt photographs to reverse small mistakes. Again, great innovation that will please many people and allow them to take better photographs.

They’re also trying to solve some of the problems in Apple mail of opened documents taking over the screen with an iPad Twitter client style sliding pane system. Looks pretty good and I’d love to have that system on my iPhone.

What we didn’t see was how all of these innovations come together in a coherent package. That’s going to be the real test of “does this suck”. At the moment, therefore, we need to reserve judgement on this aspect of the three rules for RIM’s survival.

Now looking at point 1 – which means really focusing on a customer segment. Here Thorstein Heins, RIM’s CEO definitely tried to define their customer. Heins suggested a BlackBerry user was someone who uses their device to create success.

Right, so iPhones and Android phones don’t help people be successful? Microsoft is not pushing Windows Phone as the platform that enables you to do stuff quicker and more successfully?

What’s clear from the presentation is that RIM is defining the BlackBerry user as everyone. They have not defined their niche. Hence, they have not met point number one.

So as a summary, even though there are bright spots of innovation, we still don’t know enough about BlackBerry 10 to know if it can fully save RIM.

BlackBerry World Keynote

It’s worth also mentioning the overall presentation during the keynote. Most of it was given by Thorsten Heins himself. He came over as being much more professional, confident and excited than when we first met him following the resignation of the previous CEOs.

Yet the standard for keynotes has been set by Apple. Jobs was a master at them and we can’t expect Heins to meet that standard, but we can expect him to be close to Tim Cook. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

Watching Heins, I felt that he clearly hadn’t practised enough. There were rough edges here and there; maybe due to his accent; but probably because he was reading from a teleprompter. Some of his lines came over as very canned – very marketing speak. He also had to ask the audience for applause on several occasions.

His use of slides was interesting too, for their notable lack of slides. Apple is great at using simple slides to illuminate and support a speech. This was lacking during the BBW keynote.

What does all this say about RIM? It says that they are not very detail oriented, that their quality is mediocre. You can’t say that about Apple. RIM, sweat the details!

A Magical BlackBerry Moment

At one point during the keynote, Heins mentioned a magical BlackBerry Moment when the light on the device changes colour because you’ve received a message. I found that to be fantastic.

A Magical BlackBerry Moment

This should be the theme they run advertising on for BlackBerry, especially with the new operating system. Slide your PDF back to check the email it came from, a magical BlackBerry Moment. Much better than Wake Up.