It’s been a tough few years for Research in Motion. They have gone from producing one of the most popular smartphone brands on the planet, a brand which pioneered many smartphone features that are now taken for granted, to losing customers and revenue by the bucket load and being on the verge of bankruptcy. RIM is placing all its hopes in the new BlackBerry 10 operating system and a series of new handsets to accompany it, but will it be enough to rescue BlackBerry from the brink?
RIM was among a number of companies, including Nokia and Microsoft, who were quite slow to adapt to the changing mobile phone market created by the first iPhone in 2007. While these companies once dominated the market they have since been overtaken by previously lesser names in the industry, such as Samsung. Microsoft is a shining example of the predicament currently facing RIM.
Windows Mobile was once one of the most dominant operating systems for smartphones, but Microsoft realised that with the arrival of iOS it was no longer fit for purpose. Rather than trying to add new features to the existing OS, Microsoft started from scratch with a completely new system. This is the same drastic tactic that has been undertaken by RIM with BlackBerry 10.
While Windows Phone has received a lot of praise from reviewers it has so far not managed to build up a significant market share. Part of the difficulty that Microsoft, and thus RIM, now face is that once people get sucked into an ecosystem, purchasing apps and other OS-specific content, they become reluctant to switch brands.
This wasn’t a problem five years ago, but today a phone is much more than just a phone – it comes with a whole host of other services and features that people become accustomed to. RIM can design some excellent new BlackBerry phones for the New Year and even a ground-breaking new operating system, but that simply may not be enough to win over new customers.
BlackBerry Messenger is currently one of RIM’s greatest strengths and it is fair to say that it has been vastly improved with the new operating system. Along with the ability to customise colour schemes and use darker colours to save battery life, there is an emoticon menu, and BBM now includes some handy touch gestures to make typing easier.
Swiping your thumb from right to left will delete the last word you have written, while swiping your thumb downwards will bring up a list of symbols that can be inserted into your text. Although it may seem obvious, it is one of many little touches in BB10 that make it much more intuitive and easy to use.
For example, pulling the screen downwards will put the phone into sleep mode, while you can set an alarm by dragging hands around an analogue clock.
RIM will still offer its traditional qwerty style handsets when BB10 is launched, but many of its new phones will be touchscreen devices. It is clear to see that much of the design behind BB10 has been aimed specifically at touchscreen phones, rather than merely having this functionality slapped on as an afterthought. Although many BlackBerry users still have a love for qwerty phones, the majority of the market is switching to full touchscreen and RIM needs to adapt to this if it is to survive in the long term.
Instead of just copying Android and iOS when it comes to the overall interface design, BB10 consists of more than just a grid of app icons. BB10 allows you to easily switch between running applications with Active Frames, which can display information without the need to load the app fully. This is certainly a much more user friendly experience than the app switcher found on the last two versions of Android.
Much of the communication features are now stored in BlackBerry Hub, which combines text messages, emails, social network updates and other information in one place. Not only does this reduce the need to load up several separate apps, it can also be accessed easily from anywhere on the phone’s interface.
BB10 has not just caught up with the current smartphone trends and standards, but in many areas has exceeded them. Being in such a dire position has forced RIM to think outside the box and offer customers more than they are expecting – and it is quite possible they have succeeded.
Disgruntled iPhone Users
With NFC support BB10 will also have a major advantage over the iPhone 5 which is currently receiving a lot of bad press. As mentioned, one of the reasons Microsoft has had difficulty in getting wide adoption for Windows Phone has been the fact that many smartphone users have been locked into a particular ecosystem. The latest iPhone has given people plenty of reasons to be disgruntled with iOS – from the poorly designed Maps app to the redesigned, but still proprietary, dock connector – and thus plenty of reasons to free themselves from this ecosystem and try something new.
If the latest iPhone’s problems are enough to make long-time Apple loyalists turn away from Apple, perhaps BB10 could be their new smartphone platform of choice. In my mind at least, it is already offering something more interesting than iOS or Android.
BB10 has been released early to developers to encourage app development for the new platform, and this is perhaps one of the other big challenges facing RIM. BlackBerry’s App World was never quite as substantial as the Apple App Store or Google Play, and in many respects people are drawn to smartphone brands not just for what the manufacturer has to offer, but what apps and games are available. Encouraging people to develop apps for BB10 could be one of the most important factors influencing the success or failure of the next generation of BlackBerry phones.
RIM has been so proud of what it has produced with BB10 that it is already considering licensing it to other manufacturers. This could actually be a wise move, as it would encourage people to be drawn into the BlackBerry ecosystem, even if it is with another manufacturer. RIM has certainly produced a great operating system, and will have some great phones to accompany it, but there are many other factors that will influence how it performs. If Windows Phone is anything to go by, RIM may be able to revive it fortunes but perhaps will never reach the same heights it once enjoyed.