This year, Research in Motion rebranded its Wireless Enterprise Symposium as BlackBerry World, a fitting new name that gives the event a friendlier feel. The conference begins Monday, May 2, in Orlando, and will last through Thursday. In past years, RIM has used the event to introduce new BlackBerry Enterprise Server features, new BlackBerry OS features, and of course new BlackBerrys. The event also offers a chance for RIM's partners to show off their software, services, and other products. Attendance has swelled in recent years, and RIM expects more than 5,000 to converge upon the Orlando World Marriott.
The latter half of 2010 and first half of 2011 have been turbulent for RIM. Here are five things InformationWeek expects to see at BlackBerry World:
1. New Device(s)
The original expectation was for RIM to announce a slew of new BlackBerrys at BlackBerry World. Aside from the PlayBook, RIM has had its slowest year ever with respect to new BlackBerry hardware. The company needs to get some new smartphones on store shelves, as the current crop of Bolds, Curves, etc., is getting a little stale.
Tons of unannounced Blackberrys have leaked across the Internet in recent weeks, but word now is that RIM will release just one new device--the BlackBerry Bold Touch--at BlackBerry World. The Bold Touch (not a final name) takes the Bold form factor and adds a touch screen. This will let users interact with on-screen menus and other items without the need for a touch pad (though apparently the device includes one anyway). Will RIM surprise with more hardware? Let's hope so.
2. New/Revised BlackBerry OS
RIM has already hinted that a significant refresh is coming to BlackBerry OS. It won't have anything to do with its QNX platform, but instead will take the changes introduced in BlackBerry 6 a few steps further. The new platform software was previously referred to by RIM earlier this year as BlackBerry 6.1. Whether that's the final name or not, the changes headed to the BlackBerry platform are mostly under the hood and provide developers with more tools when it comes to providing cool features. Some of them include: magnetometer/digital compass APIs; Open GL-ES 2.0; window API (overlay native app surfaces); event-based geo-fencing location APIs; and enhancement to barcode API's for additional formats and custom decoding.
What about the future of QNX and the PlayBook OS? Expect RIM to provide at least some information on how it expects the PlayBook OS to evolve over time.
3. PlayBook Status Update
Given RIM's laser-sharp focus on the PlayBook over the last seven months, it will likely spend a lot of time discussing the PlayBook at BlackBerry World. Exactly what it will say, however, is up for debate.
Analysts now believe RIM has sold about 100,000 PlayBooks during its first week of availability. If the numbers are 100,000 or greater, RIM will most likely make a fuss about it.
Beyond sales numbers, RIM will need to address the PlayBook's shortcomings and provide more information on when the PlayBook will see a significant software update. RIM has hinted that an update providing key features such as native email, calendar, and contacts support is as close as 60 days away. Not only does RIM need to talk about this, it needs to show us, too.
4. BlackBerry Services
It's doubtful that RIM will use this year's BlackBerry World as a launch point for a major new BlackBerry Enterprise Server release. Instead, RIM will (in conjunction with the new platform software mentioned above) talk about new APIs, SDKs, and other developer tools that can be used to craft BlackBerry and PlayBook applications/services.
RIM may also talk about some of its recent acquisitions, such as Tungle. It purchased Tungle, which provides cloud-based calendaring services, this week. If RIM incorporates Tungle into its BES and BIS services, BlackBerry users would be able to invite practically anyone to events, whether they're using Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Exchange, or other email/calendar systems.
RIM's BlackBerry World App Store may not have hundreds of thousands of applications like Apple's and Google's app stores, but it still offers a reasonably large assortment to the average BlackBerry user. Expect RIM to talk about developer momentum for both the BlackBerry and PlayBook platforms.
Further, RIM should provide an update on the emulator environment it plans to bring to the PlayBook, which will allow Android-based applications to run on the PlayBook. The company will need to demonstrate this forthcoming feature working at the event if it is to convince anyone that it is going to function as initially described.