BlackBerry's Battle For A Future
With the roof likely to be blown off Samsung's London Galaxy SIII unveiling in a couple of days, and Apple's WWDC selling out in hours, what can RIM and the BlackBerry brand do to generate even a huff of sympathy at its global event (which isn't a sell-out) this week?
A recent IDC survey found some 89% of developers keen to work on iOS, 79% on Android but only 16% on BlackBerry. And, with the company's stock price down from a 52-week high of US$ 48 down to just US$ 14 (although up from lows of US$ 12), RIM has a long way to go to even reach the start of an upturn. What the company's comeback hinges on is a new operating system (delayed, but just about to emerge in beta) and new devices (really, really delayed and not likely to be seen on the streets for another six months).
Assuming the new OS and hardware show up in any form, they need developers to create great apps and products for them. Having plummeted by the wayside when compared to the likes of iOS and Android, RIM is now scrapping around looking for inspiration while hoping its next products arrive and see some level of adoption.
An example of the alpha developer phone given the BB Jam attendees
The appearance of the BlackBerry 10 operating system (see below) at the BB World event is more likely to generate sighs of relief than cheers. Development alpha hardware is also at the show (Engadget has taken a peek at one), but that won't generate the slightest bit of buzz. And the likelihood of it doing anything to challenge the spread of iOS (which continues to see massive sales) and Android into the enterprise is even less likely.
Hope in HTML5 as BB10 Arrives
Ignoring the future OS and software issues, one way RIM is pushing ahead is with a keen interest in HTML5 web apps. RIM has a wrapper that will take any HTML5 app and put it on a Playbook, which has helped see a surge in such apps in the tablet's store.
This approach has given some credibility to RIM's devices and generated revenue through the store, but will that level of support continue if the company expects developers to start working natively when BlackBerry 10 appears?
That future will start today as RIM announced that the beta of the BlackBerry 10 developer kit is available from the developer site. Tools include a C\C++ SDK, HTML5 and Java tools, plus the Android and Adobe Air converter. Of course, this is a long way from a final launch, and any updates to the Playbook-alike interface remain to be seen.
With some analysts and writers suggesting RIM will give up on BlackBerry and adopt either Android or Windows Phone, the clock is ticking, and every download of that beta OS dev kit is vital to the company's future. If RIM can pull off a stellar showing of prototype hardware (with a very firm release date) and show off the power of its OS, then perhaps it has a future. Anything less and it faces life in the slow lane of mobile adoption, both in the office and on the street.
Highlights From RIM's BB10 Show
Following a presentation from the show, RIM's CEO Thorsten Heins took to the stage with a prototype device saying it wasn't final hardware or styling. He said it will support 4G speeds, and we've seen the screen is pretty hi-res.
The first feature of BB10 shown off was the phone's notifcations that "flow" or merge into your applications, taking you to the message without leaving the current app.
Cascades is the new UI method that helps coders create a unified look throughout their apps. First impression is that Cascades is a big step forward for BlackBerry, but not that much different from what rivals offer.
The new on-screen keyboard adds improved predictive typing and you can now swipe backwards to delete a mispelled word rather than hold down the delete key.
The camera app is also improved, adding a timeline feature. When the app is active, it is recording, so you can move the timeline around to choose the best frame for a particular photo you were trying to take.
BB10 will also feature in-car systems, allowing you to control, communicate and interact with one devcice. CEO Heins says, "The whole company is focused on delivering on-time and exceeding your expectations with BB10."
The BlackBerry App Generator makes app building a hassle-free task for both smartphones and PlayBook tablets.
Heins used the phrase "BlackBerry people" a lot, like he is trying to build that sense of community, and the features got a decent response from the crowd, but would they make you rush out and buy a phone?
Product demos have included a host of ported games from the likes of Gameloft, as if that's a priority for most enterprises, and some DJ music software from Pacemaker. Pixelmags showed off its app that brings glossy magazines to tablet/phone screens. Guessing that RIM still thinks it should appeal to the consumer market.
BB in the Enterprise
RIM is offering enterprise users BlackBerry Business Cloud Services with Office 365 integration. That and a new BlackBerry Enterprise Server should keep the bean counters happy.
RIM's enterprise management suite, Mobile Fusion, can be cloud-based or hosted and continues to support rivals iOS and Android in an attempt to position it as an agnostic offering. It will attempt to secure data for non-BB devices too.
After the Show
First up is the videos that popped up after the show, giving us a closer look at BB10.
Something that came out at the developer Jam event is news that RIM is promising $10,000 to any "certified" apps written for BB10. If they earn the developer at least $1,000 don't it doesn't earn over $10,000, then RIM will make up the difference. That's a modest incentive for developers, but for smaller code shops, means that BlackBerry could be worth a punt.