BlackBerry (Nasdaq: RIMM; Toronto: RIM) this week offered a preview of its new operating system, BlackBerry OS 6. The OS has a distinct consumer flavor that might cause conservative companies to fear that BlackBerrys will be less appropriate for business.
Do not fear: This OS is a more contemporary-styled suit with a higher quality fabric, but it's still a suit. However, it also will look good without a tie.
(If you have even an iota of musical taste, you'll want to mute the video's audio unless you want to listen to the Black Eyed Peas' execrable "Boom Boom Pow." And if you have an iota of terpsichorean taste, you'll hate the spastic gyrations in the background, which only distract from viewing the screenshots.)
BlackBerry 6 is a touch-friendly OS that includes multitouch. It offers kinetic scrolling (the screen continues to move after it's flicked) and rubber banding (when the screen is flicked down to the end of the information, it bounces up a bit). These features are more than just eye candy; they can improve the speed of accessing data.
Although the video highlights a touch screen, the new OS is designed to also work well on non-touch BlackBerrys with physical keyboards.
One of the most important aspects of BlackBerry 6 is RIM's new WebKit-based browser, which should display pages far better than the current mediocre browser. If you've ever had difficulty viewing pages in the current browser, you'll appreciate WebKit's superior rendering.
The new browser also will include tabs, which I can't live without on my computer browsers, and which I want in all my cellphone browsers. In addition, the browser has “pinch to zoom.”
It looks as if the WebKit rendering engine could be used for other applications, such as better HTML email. I'm sick of BlackBerry's HTML email that sometimes is displayed like a disjointed puzzle of text and graphics.
The Home screen looks similar to the current GUI, but it seems you can enter search terms from that screen. Also, there are context-sensitive menus that pop up in the middle of the screen, rather than on the left.
RIM has redesigned its core applications, such as messages, calendar, and contacts. Those apps look nicer, although there aren't any details about additional features. In addition, there's a new app for aggregating RSS feeds and social networking updates. This might seem to be more for consumers, but many businesspeople rely on RSS and social networking messages.
The media player, which has been sorely in need of updating, has been improved, including an Apple "Cover Flow" sort of look.
RIM is doing a balancing act. It needs to significantly update its aging OS to lure more consumers, who have become the majority of BlackBerry buyers. However, the OS can't sport a completely unfamiliar graphical user interface, like Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, because the company can't spook corporate customers.
Enterprises can be very sure the new OS will continue to incorporate top-notch security, IT software to restrict user applications, remote wiping of device data, etc.
RIM hopes to launch BlackBerry 6 in the next quarter, with new handsets slated for the fall. The OS could be available for some current BlackBerrys, but not necessarily older, less powerful models.
Consumers will have more reasons to pick BlackBerry phones because of the snazzier OS. Corporate users who must use company-provided BlackBerrys, but lust for iPhones or Android phones with superior multimedia and Internet capabilities, will much prefer BlackBerry 6 to older BlackBerry operating systems.
However, I haven't seen or heard of anything about the new BlackBerrys that's revolutionary or especially innovative. If you love the iPhone or Android interfaces and wealth of applications, and don't need good physical keyboards or the best push email, I don't think these phones will be too enticing. I'm keeping an open mind, though.
I try not to underestimate the resistance of corporations to change, but I still do!
A big problem for RIM, however, is their base is changing. The majority of sales is, supposedly, from consumers. And, RIM very much wants to increase their user base, which also means an emphasis on consumers.
So RIM is walking a tightrope. It has to be sufficiently conservative to keep corporations while also appealing to consumers.
Never underestimate the resistance to change in the corporate world. From the users who don't want to learn a new way of doing things (slight mods are alright, but don't make it completely different), to the guys on the backend in IT that have to integrate it, resistance is always high.
From the video, I'd say they've done a decent job of making the OS slicker, and incorporating some of the better features of other smartphones, without going far enough to alienate their base.
I certainly agree. Indeed, we're seeing that with Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, which is a complete break with Windows Mobile, and emphasizes consumer features.
I assume Microsoft will unveil new enterprise-oriented features for Phone 7, such as Exchange and Office applications that are superior to existing ones on Windows Mobile devices.
It will be interesting to see whether Phone 7 resonates with businesses or whether RIM's seemingly more conservative BlackBerry 6 will be the phone of choice.....especially for the more staid companies.
BlackBerry 6 will offer some compatibility with older handsets, perhaps close to total compatibility with the newer BlackBerrys. But Phone 7 looks like it will require a significant rewrite of Windows Mobile apps.
I never doubted RIM would improve its operating system. But is BlackBerry 6 good enough to excite consumers so that RIM captures more market share and increases its revenues?
Perhaps in some countries, where owning a BlackBerry is a big status symbol and excellent e-mail capabilities are crucial, BlackBerry 6 will be exciting. After all, RIM is a very international company.
The two BlackBerry handsets debuted during the WES 2010 conference were the same boring RIM designs without any exciting or innovative enhancements. I assume RIM will unveil another one or two higher end devices later this year, perhaps with a combined touch screen and physical keyboard, as I've noted.
I would love to see RIM come out with a handset with a new, great design. So far, there haven't been any rumors of such a device, but we've still got more than half the year to go.
As I wrote, based on the video, BlackBerry 6 is a catch-up operating system rather than anything innovative. Perhaps when it's launched in the next quarter we'll see some exciting stuff.
The iPhone, Android and even Palm's webOS are more appealing to customers (despite Palm's problems, it's an excellent consumer OS). With more of RIM's sales coming from consumers, the company certainly realizes it's crucial to appeal to that market.
I guess we'll see later this year whether BlackBerry 6 combined with new handsets and applications generate greater consumer excitement. So far, only the techies have weighed in.
I agree that RIM's new WebKit browser in BlackBerry 6 will be a very big feature. But it will be mostly for BlackBerry fans because cellular subscribers using other smartphones, such as the iPhone, Android phones, already have browsers that are better than the BlackBerry OS 5.x (or older) browser.
Perhaps people who are using another phone, and would switch to a BlackBerry if the browser was better, would do so with BlackBerry 6.
As for the physical + online keyboard, that's nice, but other phones have offered it for some time.
I agree that business users -- especially corporate IT departments -- are more concerned about security and reliability than getting the latest OS or most innovative applications. Corporations also are concerned their phones will run any corporate-specific apps.
But as audreypeters said in her comments, and I replied, business people also are consumers, and they, too, want nice looking operating systems, great hardware and a choice of applications, especially if their corporate phone is their only phone (assuming the corporation allows non-business apps).
I am a BlackBerry fan because e-mail is my No. 1 use for a phone, followed by Web surfing. I love the BlackBerry push e-mail and physical keyboards.
However, I am far from blind to BlackBerry problems and use many other phones with superior browsers and applications. Indeed, a month ago I wrote a ThinkerNET blog about RIM's need to do a much better job with its OS and hardware.
I agree, as I wrote in this recent blog, that based on the video and hardware designs I've seen, RIM doesn't offer much to convince non-BlackBerry fans to switch from the iPhone, Android phones and other higher-end devices.
So far, BlackBerry 6 does seem more of a catch-up play, but we haven't seen the entire OS and new applications. There are rumors of a new BlackBerry with a combined touch screen and a physical keyboard, although the early photos (if real), show the same ol' BlackBerry-type design.
Regarding the Palm Pre...I like webOS, but the Pre and Pixi hardware can't compare to some of the better-designed phones with superior construction, screens and keyboards. I hope HP's resources will enable Palm to produce world class phones as well as convince more developers to produce innovative applications.
Regarding business people as consumers, I completely agree. Indeed, in October I wrote how phone manufacturers are increasingly developing products for consumer, rather then enterprise, desires, and that this isn't entirely or necessarily bad for enterprises.
And, one more thing: RIM's "customers" are the cellular operators (yeah, I know). RIM has done a great job lining up a huge number of operators around the world, developing a variety of phones for different markets and producing bandwidth-efficient data services (which Mike Lazaridis often stresses as crucial in this age of video streaming and downloads).
Although BlackBerry 6 isn't revolutionary, it's a bit better than just a slick jacket.
There are some advantages, such as a better and faster browser, a new application for integrating social networking and, I'm sure, other features that aren't highlighted in the brief video. Also, RIM said it has rewritten its core applications for messaging, contacts and calendar.
Just because it isn't revolutionary doesn't mean the new OS won't provide a better experience. I assume it will.
But a big question is whether BlackBerry 6 will help boost RIM's market share or, at the very least, maintain the company's market.
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