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BlackBerry 10 – RIM stuck between a rock and a hard place

RIM's CEO unveiled the company's new BB10 platform this week, still with no final launch date. How long now until its new features are ripped off and nullified by the competition?

By Cbr Rolling Blog

Research in Motion has finally unveiled its next generation BlackBerry 10 mobile devices. Well, almost.

CEO Thorsten Heins unveiled the new device at the company’s Blackberry World conference, a prototype at least, which he reiterated is not an indication of the final product. (See his keynote here)

The conference also marks the release of the software developer kit so app-makers can start developing the app eco-system before the first handsets arrive at year end.

App developers were given a beta of the tools to start building BlackBerry 10 apps, including support for new HTML5 technology. RIM also announced that it would offer coders at least $10,000 (£6,200) for any app certified for Blackberry 10 that meets its terms and conditions.

Heins is making a point of not repeating the mistakes of the Playbook a year ago, which was rushed to market missing key features, such as a proper email client.

Unfortunately it looks like the company’s development cycle still hasn’t shrunk enough to be competitive. The next generation of BB10 devices has been in development for a year now, and with no firm release date other than 4th quarter 2012 and still no hardware to show for it, its hard to be sympathetic.

Alec Saunders, RIM’s Vice President of Developer Relations, told The New York Times that RIM released the prototype phone to "create a wave of application support behind the new BlackBerrys before we bring them to market".

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What Heins did demonstrate on the device was relatively impressive (see video here) – it will be a touch screen only device (no keyboard), with some unique keyboard functions. Heins demonstrated deleting words by crossing them out on the screen, some innovative contact list functionality, and a ‘rewindable’ still camera. This basically means the camera is buffering photos as you take them, so you can rewind a few frames before saving a final image (like, say if a baby closes its eyes or looks away from the camera).

But for the most part, the OS is so unfinished, that its hard to get any kind of bearing on what the final product will perform like. As mentioned earlier, we also have no idea what the hardware will look or feel like, and how these functions will interplay – which is absolutely fundamental in the modern mobile market.

The problem with revealing these functions now is that these are, quite simply, just features.

RIM is going through a huge OS generational shift – the opposition isn’t. Android and Apple manage to do 6 month dev cycles on their software for major changes, but the 0.1 and 0.2 versions can often flow as frequently as monthly.

Why is this relevant? Because the competition, Apple and Android, will simply look at Heins’ tech demo, pick out what it likes, and implement it into their next versions. They certainly have plenty of time to do so. BB10’s QNX-based interface is hardly a radically different platform to what’s on offer already.

Apple has shown that it is adept at applying other company’s ideas and patents on its own products, and Google’s Android team (especially when working with Samsung) is as bad, if not worse.

RIM is no stranger to this; its wildly popular Blackberry Messenger was quickly turned into Apple’s iMessage.

That’s just how the modern mobile market works. You just need to look at the absurd amount of patent litigation going on around the world currently, these companies are perfectly happy to end up in the court room for any alleged breaches, which they can drag out for years.

I understand Heins is stuck between a rock and a hard place. He has inherited a company that has seen years of poor R&D and executive decision making. He had to show something to drive developer interest, but showing this little, and in easily digestible ‘tidbit’ form does the company no favours.

The market responded in kind – knocking some 7% off the value of the company – to go on top of the 75% that has been slashed off it in the last year.

This really is RIM’s last chance to get it right and stay relevant.


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