This was RIM’s last throw of the dice. At BlackBerry World in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday new CEO Thorsten Heins could’ve completely underwhelmed the market. There could’ve been more of the same that we’ve come to expect from the last few disappointing years under co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie.
But he didn’t.
Heins, who’s been in charge for only just over three months, surprised the market and the few thousand partners, developers and media in Orlando. Granted, expectations were fairly low.
But RIM has almost run out of runway. The velocity at which the smartphone market is changing globally means that platforms which don’t innovate, die.
Heins understands this, and he knows he’s been under pressure since taking the top job on January 22. “A lot has been said and written about BlackBerry during this time,” he said at the start of the conference keynote.
RIM took the hard choice in competing with Apple’s iOS and rival smartphone makers which have largely chosen to licence Android. It could’ve licensed Android (or Windows Phone like Nokia’s chosen to do). But Heins explained “we made the hard choice, [we] took the long road” to “deliver our own OS and platform.”
BlackBerry 10, its new operating system, is a whole new user interface – a difficult proposition given the directions iOS, Android and Windows Phone have taken. Heins makes the point that RIM is “making incredible progress on BB10” and Tuesday morning launched the “Developer Alpha” device – not the final phone that will be released later this year.
BlackBerry 10 Sneak Peek from the BlackBerry World 2012 Keynote
“It’s working, and it’s working well.” Heins couldn’t help but smile.
One of RIM’s strengths with BlackBerry has always been the tiny details. Heins mentioned the “D” (for delivered) changing to “R” (for read) in BBM as something that is a “little [bit of] magic to BlackBerry users.”
In Blackberry 10, RIM has reinvented its typing, predictive text and autocorrect. It’s always had the “best physical keypad on the planet” says Heins, and the new touchscreen keyboard learns from how you type, and adapts to you.
Heins also demonstrated switching between apps – something he calls “flow”. There is less emphasis on the user knowing which app they’re using, especially since users “don’t want to have to hit the back button over and over again”.
Heins saved some magic for last, despite this not being the “final product”. The camera in BlackBerry 10 lets you go back in time to capture the correct moment when you take a picture. By being able to “rewind”, you won’t miss the shot.
There was a connected Porsche too, offering a glimpse of the not-too-distant future, all running from a single mobile computing platform (BB10). It would be a stretch if it weren’t that 60% of (smarter) cars today run on QNX – the core of the BB10 operating system.
RIM has been working on BB10 for the past 18 months, so it’s no surprise that there were one or two fist pumps from Heins through the presentation.
The trick though is to make sure it has a healthy ecosystem and a full catalogue of apps when the first BB10 devices ship later this year. RIM has this one chance to convert its 77 million “BlackBerry people” (a phrase we’re going to hear a lot more in future) to the new platform. If it misses, it loses.
Part of the strategy is using the PlayBook as an “on-ramp” to BB10 to allow developers and partners to perfect their apps (apps will run on both as it’s the same core OS).
If the update to its PlayBook software is anything to go by (after delays, under Heins it was released ahead of schedule), BlackBerry 10 will be available sooner than the market expects.
Says Heins: “We are laser-focused on delivering on time [and] exceeding your expectations”
* Hilton Tarrant travelled to BlackBerry World 2012 in Orlando, Florida as a guest of Research In Motion.
** And no, the iPhone-clone which BB10 has been demoed on is not the device BlackBerry will be launching later this year.