Research In Motion unveiled its long-awaited BlackBerry 10 platform to developers at its BlackBerry World conference in Florida yesterday. So was it worth the wait? Guy Daniels reports.
Tuesday May 1st saw the official unveiling of the BlackBerry 10 platform – RIM’s last ditch attempt to remain relevant to smartphone customers before Apple and Google run away with the prize. Mayday for RIM, in more ways than one…
With RIM claiming more than 77 million BlackBerry customers around the world, it undoubtedly has a large user base, most of whom appear to be loyal and have stuck with the troubled company through its recent downwards spiral into the history books. So BlackBerry 10 is important to RIM; in fact, it’s vital that it be a success. We can’t see a Plan B if this fails.
And so RIM has released the initial developer toolkit for software development as a free download. It also gave all developers attending the event a ‘Dev Alpha’ reference handset to enable their new apps to be thoroughly tested in a real environment before the company publically launches the first dedicated devices towards the end of this year. Applications created will run on BlackBerry 10 smartphones as well as the BlackBerry PlayBook when the new platform becomes available for the tablet. RIM VP Chris Smith said developers could write apps using RIM’s Cascades framework, in native code or in HTML5:
“There is tremendous interest, anticipation and momentum building toward the launch of BlackBerry 10 devices, and today we’re extremely excited to release the BlackBerry 10 developer beta tools.”
Other RIM executives, no doubt delighted to have been spared during the recent cull, were all ‘on message’ at the event. The accompanying press release is full of quotes with the words new, engaging, powerful and compelling, as you would expect.
VP Alec Saunders said:
“Developers building for BlackBerry 10 will be able to easily create the kind of cutting-edge apps that deliver truly engaging experiences and ‘wow’ customers.”
But does BlackBerry 10 have the necessary ‘wow’ factor itself? These days, with phones basically just one big display screen, it’s all about the operating system and the user interface. Get these two right, and great apps will be developed and downloaded, leading to greater customer take-up of the devices, which in turn feeds back into the app development cycle. And so on. But get the OS and UI wrong, and customers will spend their money with Apple or an Android OEM.
From the videos we’ve seen, it looks pretty decent. But is BlackBerry 10 substantially different from iOS, Android or Windows Phone? In the demos it looks like it will comfortably compete in turns of basic usability, but will the new devices really stand out from the crowd when they launch later this year? Look at how much money Nokia and Microsoft threw at the Lumia launch, and look how relatively ineffectual that was. The Windows Phone OS is fantastic, but it hasn’t dented the sales of iPhones or Android devices.
RIM has deservedly suffered a lot of bad press in past couple of years. But now it is making a concerted effort to get back on track. Perhaps it doesn’t have to come up with a OS and UI that is better than the competition, merely being as good as will do? You cannot underestimate the importance of its loyal customer base. But isn’t that what Nokia had as well? And are carriers – still the biggest buyers of handsets – still reliant on RIM to support their business customers?
BlackBerry 10 looks competitive today, but by the end of the year when it launches it will face a new version of Apple’s iOS and a new Android iteration. RIM needs to meet its launch deadline; it can’t afford any slip-ups. And it needs to have a much more comprehensive app developer community – it can’t go running to Android developers, like it did for the PlayBook launch.
To create this solid ecosystem, RIM is also setting up a certification program for developers who create (in the view of an unspecified third party) “quality” applications. For these submitted apps, RIM will guarantee that they will each earn at least $10,000 – if they don’t, RIM will issue a cheque for the difference. If that doesn’t generate some interest, nothing will.
Although the first BlackBerry 10 device is likely to be an all-touchscreen design, CEO Thorsten Heins made it clear that models with the familiar physical keyboard will follow later. He was also quoted as saying that:
“We’re taking our time to make sure we get this right.”
Not too long though Thorsten, the clock is ticking…
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