BlackBerry (the company formerly known as ‘RIM’) finally released BlackBerry 10 at a high-profile worldwide launch event today. The long-awaited revamp of the BlackBerry platform is seen by many as a last ditch effort to combat iOS and Android. BlackBerry’s event detailed the new OS as well as several new devices to push the ecosystem into the increasingly-crowded smartphone market. To help them do this, they’ve also announced that BlackBerry World (formerly BlackBerry App World) will sell music, TV shows and movies.
Devices with physical QWERTY keyboards have become rare during the smartphone rat race, and BlackBerry hopes to exploit that niche with the new BlackBerry Q10. BlackBerry’s track record with producing such devices shows they have a proven pedigree for designing useful physical keyboards, but whether it will be enough to tempt business users from their large screen iPhones and Android devices remains to be seen.
To take on the large screen contingent of the smartphone sector, BlackBerry has also announced the new BlackBerry Z10. BlackBerry is no stranger to these types of devices, but they haven’t pushed them as the main core of their business until now. In theory, this could be a smart strategy. Mobile device users are now obsessed with consuming entertainment content on the go and connecting with their friends via social media.
Looking at the software, it seems that BlackBerry has taken great care to make sure BlackBerry 10 scales across their two form factors without harming the experience. However, it seems like BlackBerry is splitting the BlackBerry brand into two key user groups: the business elite (BlackBerry Q10) and the regular smartphone users (BlackBerry Z10). Both groups offer unique opportunities for BlackBerry.
Their history in the business sector shows that they know how to create useful enterprise solutions. Surprisingly, other smartphone manufacturers haven’t been able to fully capitalise on this market yet so BlackBerry could potentially entice that audience back. It will take a lot of effort though, as iOS devices are gathering some traction in the enterprise space and Samsung is also looking at increasing their enterprise portfolio.
On the other hand, their experiences with regular smartphone users have been somewhat troubled. BlackBerry App World was often criticised for being clunky as well as not offering an easy experience for both developers and end-users. Moreover, it didn’t offer any media content for its users. BlackBerry believes that BlackBerry World will make up for these lost opportunities. They’ve worked hard to encourage developers to code for the platform and have made great strides with offering multimedia content with a whole host of partners.
BlackBerry thinks that they’ve managed to solve the work/personal divide by allowing users to toggle their device between work and personal mode in a system they’re calling ‘BlackBerry Balance’. Previous implementations of this feature have been on other devices before, but they were cumbersome or not effective. The BlackBerry 10 version of this feature seems to seamlessly stitch work and personal information into one secure package that will inspire bring your own device (BYOD) evangelists. Coupled with BBM’s new video chat and screen chat features, BlackBerry has thought of some useful features for all their potential user-bases.
Furthermore, the popular decision to remove the monthly BlackBerry service fee will allow the company to compete on a level playing field and market their devices to more users. The economy and their rivals have obviously forced their hand on this matter, but at least it shows that BlackBerry is listening to the market and making changes (albeit very slowly). Despite this, BlackBerry’s executives don’t seem to be publicly admitting that the company’s previous approaches were wrong. Such own-goals will further damage the company’s image and undo the positive feedback they’re trying to generate with BlackBerry 10.
End-user reception will be the ultimate judge on whether BlackBerry 10 is a success. BlackBerry has responded to their poor financial results by going back to the drawing board and creating a new experience that reflects the modern needs of smartphone users. This time, it appears as if they really have listened to the community’s feedback and used that to fix most of the issues that have plagued their previous OS versions.
However, all these changes may be too late. While BlackBerry has been flatlining, Apple and Google have taken the smartphone market by storm through offering superior experiences that adapt to their user’s needs. If BlackBerry is to remain relevant, they will have to catch up extremely quickly and offer something that their rivals can’t. Fortunately, we won’t have long to find out what will happen. BlackBerry 10 devices will be released in the coming weeks across all of RIM’s major territories, with the UK getting the BlackBerry Z10 tomorrow.