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BlackBerry Blues: New CEO, new phone, renewed popularity?

Rob North wonders whether the struggling Smartphone company can find its feet in the Apple & Android dominated market.

Research In Motion CEO Thorsten Heins unveiling the latest BlackBerry mobile at the BlackBerry World Conference 2012
Research In Motion CEO Thorsten Heins unveiling the
latest BlackBerry mobile at the BlackBerry World Conference 2012

BlackBerry (otherwise affectionately referred to as ‘CrapBerry’ by my technophobic father) is fighting a losing battle in the ever-burgeoning Smartphone market. Over the last few years Research in Motion (RIM), the company behind the BlackBerry range of smartphones, has failed both critically and commercially to maintain pace with the mobile industry. Share values have significantly dropped, and CEOs have changed, but RIM refuses to give up the fight.

Earlier this month the company unveiled the latest version of its mobile operating system – dubbed BlackBerry 10 – at the annual BlackBerry World conference, with an expected release towards the end of this year.

Features of BlackBerry 10

By the looks of things, the new operating system has given the BlackBerry user interface a huge overhaul, now utilising a ‘time saving’ flowing interface which allows users to quickly cycle between applications and open windows with simple finger swipes.

While the majority of BlackBerry devices have featured physical QWERTY keyboards, RIM seems to have finally acknowledged the popularity of touch screens; the demonstration device featured a touchscreen QWERTY keyboard aesthetically similar to competitor designs like the iPhone. Variously referred to as ‘intelligent’ or ‘adaptive’ by industry pundits, the keyboard assigns commonly used phrases to particular letters. For example, the word ‘the’ may be assigned to the letter ‘T’. The user can simply swipe upwards on the letter ‘T’ to instantly insert the word ‘the’. Similarly, mistakes can quickly be erased by swiping the keypad to the left. It might not be a game-changer, but nevertheless it’s pretty cool.

Perhaps the most exciting feature of BlackBerry 10 is the ‘rewind’ camera technology. With BlackBerry 10 shutterbugs will be able to cycle back through frames captured before the actual photo was taken, and replace individual elements of the photo, such as faces, allowing for the ‘perfect’ photo.

Is it enough to save RIM?

While it was once the smartphone of choice for the corporate sector and leading edge techno junkies, BlackBerry has lost considerable ground to Apple iOS and Google Android devices. At the BlackBerry World conference, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins told attendees that the BlackBerry platform’s unique value is “creating personal success.” While there’s no doubt that the BlackBerry can increase productivity and connectivity and thereby create personal success, the same can be said of Apple iOS and Google Android devices; there’s nothing to significantly differentiate BlackBerry’s product.

Moreover, the BlackBerry is starved for apps. According to a 2011 report by Developer Economics, market penetration is the biggest motivation for application developers in choosing a platform, meaning that the now struggling BlackBerry is often passed over for the now considerably more popular iOS and Android platforms.

Already RIM has lost support of several developers, including YouMail, the developers of a popular voicemail app of the same name. In a blog post last month YouMail developers suspended any further work on the BlackBerry version of their product: “we’ve seen our BlackBerry audience steadily shrink, with a steady exodus of those users moving to the iPhone and to Android.”

The BlackBerry’s saving grace may be industry adoption of HTML5. Apps created in HTML5 will be able to run in almost all mobile browsers, regardless of platform. RIM are obviously putting a lot of support behind HTML5, but have they put too many eggs in one basket? After all, you can’t save a company if it’s already dead.

The new Blackberry 10