The Canadian company is essentially betting its future as a smartphone maker on the success of its BB10 operating system and handsets. But is there is still room in the market for BlackBerry or will the handsets go the same way as the Betamax video cassette and the HD-DVD?
RIM presented developers at its BlackBerry World conference with a BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha device The BB10 Z handset looks great on paper, but will its leading features translate into an army of users?
On Wednesday Research In Motion will officially launch its make-or-break next generation of BlackBerry smartphone handsets plus a revamped operating system and app store in an attempt to reestablish itself as part of the smartphone elite.
In what many in the tech community are calling a ‘last roll of the dice,' RIM executives will take to the stage in New York city to showcase the new operating system, called BB10 as well as two new handsets -- one a touchscreen-only device called the Z10 and another with the more familiar molded plastic keyboard that helped to build the BlackBerry brand 10 years ago.
But, no matter how good these phones are -- and the latest reports suggest that in terms of raw power alone the handsets will leave Android and Apple handsets standing -- performance alone will not be enough. For RIM to reemerge it has to bring something to the party that others are currently lacking and for which there is a clear unfulfilled demand.
However, the things that built the BlackBerry brand -- free messaging between the devices, secure mobile email and fast, accurate typing -- have all been replicated or bettered either by hardware or apps on other platforms.
Up until 2007, the BlackBerry was the undisputed smartphone leader, and it was the must-have handset for professionals and aspiring teens alike. In that very year, Apple launched the iPhone and everything changed, seemingly forever.
So great has been the success of Apple's first foray into the smartphone market that most forgot the criticism directed at the company for building a handset without a dedicated keyboard. The consensus seemed to be that until it adopted the same keyboard as the BlackBerry, no one would ever take it seriously.
Five years later Apple has just announced that it sold 47 million iPhones in a single financial quarter, while the latest figures from IDC, published earlier this month, suggest RIM's total BlackBerry handset shipments (not sales) for the whole of 2012 amount to 32.5 million. The company estimates that Samsung shipped some 215 million handsets in the same period.
In order to seem fresh and exciting again, RIM has been working very closely with developers and already boasts thousands of apps on its new platform. On January 19 alone 15,000 apps were ported to the platform. According to Bob El-Hawary, RIM's senior director of channel accounts. "We've been accepting BlackBerry 10 apps since 12 October," he told the official Vodafone blog, "and with more coming in every day as we close in on launch, we're confident that we'll launch with tens of thousands of apps, a record for the launch of any new mobile platform."
What's more it now has ‘last mover's advantage' in that it can incorporate the winning features of other handsets while simultaneously avoiding their mistakes. This is clear in features such as BlackBerry Glance, a live list of all notifications -- from business emails to Facebook and LinkedIn posts -- in the lock-screen accessed with the swipe of a thumb, and BlackBerry Balance, a feature that keeps work and play separate so that one handset can be used as a dedicated business and personal phone while keeping data, contacts and apps for each purpose completely separate and therefore secure.
Then there's the first handset's specifications: The Z10 will have a 4.2-inch screen with a 1280x786 pixel screen (a higher resolution than the iPhone 5), 2GB of RAM, 16GB of memory, will support NFC and will have an 1,800mAh battery which RIM claims will put it at the top of the class in terms of battery life between charges.
Most industry analysts believe that RIM has already left it too late if it really wants to challenge Android or even Apple's dominance. Figures published Monday by Strategy Analytics show that 92 percent of all smartphones shipped in Q4 2012 were Android and iOS, suggesting that only 10 percent of the global market remains up for grabs. "The new BB10 offers the best [user experience] on the market -- not perfect, but certainly a rival to the iPhone 5, with even greater performance," said Gartner analyst Phillip Redman in a blog post on the subject. He believes that this performance, coupled with the fact that RIM is so committed to marketing the device that it has bought SuperBowl commercial spots will be enough for it to beat Windows into fourth place.
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