Research In Motion has a plan to turn itself around, but it is quickly running out of time. Its next-gen platform may be on track to arrive later this year, but the mobile industry's blistering pace of innovation won't slow down to wait for RIM to catch up.
RIM provided a first look at BlackBerry 10 during BlackBerry World 2012's opening keynote. RIM has pinned its future on BB10. This platform combines the best of BlackBerry 7 and PlayBook OS 2.0 and will serve as RIM's mobile computing platform in the years to come.
The problem is that RIM barely showed anything about the new OS. It revealed a great software keyboard, a high-level view of the cascading user interface, and a very brief look at the contact and messaging component of the UI. That's it. The message from RIM on BB10 is clear: It's not nearly ready. The company showed so little of the new platform, it's hard to believe there's really a platform at all. The presentations were slick, but RIM didn't show even an early build of BB10 working on a prototype handset. For all intents and purposes, we don't know anything about BB10.
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RIM's hardware strategy is also a mystery. The company didn't introduce any new phones. It wasn't expected to. But the firm didn't provide any direction on what the RIM faithful can expect from its hardware division once BlackBerry 10 arrives. Will the phones be thinner, more attractive, more media-capable, will they have 4G? RIM didn't say. Though RIM's smartphones have historically been solid messaging machines, RIM needs to face the touch screen designs from Apple and Google head on if it wants to win back market share.
What of RIM's planned "enterprise focus"? The company didn't say anything about its BlackBerry Enterprise Servers (BES). Instead, it talked up Mobile Fusion, which gives BlackBerry admins the ability to manage Android smartphones and iPhones. The company didn't say if new versions of BES or BlackBerry Internet Services are on the way, nor how the existing products will work with BB10 once it launches.
RIM did offer developers a handset during the conference, and offered a $10,000 bounty for BB10 apps. The BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha is a tool app writers can use to test their applications. Unfortunately, this device was the subject of some pre-show hype. People expected to see a handset running an early build of BB10. The Dev Alpha doesn't. Instead, it runs a stripped-down version of PlayBook OS 2.0. The device really is a developer's tool, not an early look at RIM's new platform. It is simply a testbed and nothing more. For whatever reason, this device didn't impress Wall Street, and RIM's stock sank further after it was unveiled.
Amplifying all these problems, RIM cancelled its analyst briefings, which typically take place during BBW. It said it doesn't want to update analysts and investors until BB10 is ready to launch. That means investors are going to remain in the dark for a while.
The one positive message coming from RIM this week was delivered to the press Wednesday. RIM CEO Thorsten Heins demonstrated that he understands how much trouble RIM is in. He has a plan to fix it, and appears to have rallied the troops, to a degree. He reiterated over and over that BB10 won't be launched until it is perfect.
Since no one can really say what "perfect" means, I'd settle for "competitive." RIM has to address the features and usability offered by Android, iOS, and to a lesser extend Windows Phone. It has to be as elegant, as powerful, and as user friendly as the platforms offered by the market leaders.
Based on what little we know, it is impossible to say whether or not RIM can make up lost ground before time runs out.
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