From what I've seen, BB 10 is a flashy (in a good way) operating system, but RIM has a long way to go before a commercial version of the OS is offered in a phone.
BB 10 integrates aspects of the BlackBerry PlayBook's QNX OS, as well as hints of the HP/Palm webOS and Microsoft's Windows Phone. The details were revealed during RIM's BlackBerry World conference in Orlando. Thorstein Heins, the company's new CEO, showcased the OS during a keynote address.
He and other executives showed BB 10 in demo videos and on a prototype BlackBerry "phone" that can't make phone calls or connect to wireless networks but can display certain applications and can be used by developers to create applications. The BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha slab phone looks like an Android handset sporting a 4.2-inch screen with a resolution of 1280 x 768.
The details can get confusing. Even though the demo device carries the BlackBerry 10 label, its software isn't BB 10. Instead, it is software for developers to create apps that should run on BB 10 handsets, as well as the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet (when its OS is upgraded to BB 10). RIM is giving developers free Dev Alpha devices. Adding to the confusion, the device's software can't display many of the BB 10 features RIM is showing in demo videos.
RIM has posted a 39-minute video of Heins's presentation, as well as a brief video (see below) that highlights a few features of BB 10, though it is not clear what kind of device was used for the demo.
The Dev Alpha handset doesn't include the famed BlackBerry physical keyboard. But when the commercial version of the first BB 10 device becomes available, the touch-screen keyboard will include some tricks that RIM says will make typing as easy as it is on its physical keyboards.
For example, the virtual keyboard is designed to learn typing habits. If you always hit a little too far to the left or right for a specific letter, the keyboard supposedly will learn that you want to type, for example, "g" instead of "f." Also, the keyboard employs predictive text and displays a word it thinks you're typing above a letter. Predictive text certainly isn't new, but if the word is correct, you flick the word up with your finger, and it appears on the screen.
The Dev Alpha device displays four colorful tiles, like Microsoft's Windows Phone OS, although the BB 10 tiles seem more graphically appealing. After opening an application, you can swipe it to open other screens of that app.
RIM emphasizes that BB 10 will offer true multitasking, with open apps updating even when they do not appear on the main screen. This is unlike iOS, where only a few specific apps can update in the background.
Though many of the apps that were demonstrated were for consumers, Heins and other executives said RIM is also focusing on the enterprise. They discussed Mobile Fusion for managing BlackBerry and non-BlackBerry devices, and executives at Cisco Systems and Salesforce.com said during the keynote presentation that
they were building BB 10 programs, though they did not demonstrate any. In fact, RIM spent just a few seconds showing a glimpse of email. It didn't show anything about the browser, BlackBerry Messenger, or IT apps. I suspect this highlights not only that the software is still in alpha, but also that the company is struggling to convince developers to produce BB 10 apps.
RIM is doing everything it can to convince developers, such as handing out thousands of free PlayBooks and Dev Alpha devices. In addition, it guarantees that BB 10 developers who produce "certified" quality apps that generate at least $1,000 in sales will receive at least $10,000. If the app falls short of earning $10,000, RIM will give the developer the difference in cash. So if your app (which has to be "certified" as being high quality) earns, say, $1,500, RIM will write a check for $8,500, so the developer is assured of earning at least $10,000.
Without seeing final BB 10 hardware and software, it's impossible to predict how well the new OS and devices will fare. By the time the first handset is available, perhaps around October, a new iPhone, a new Android OS (Jelly Bean), and a new Windows Phone OS (Apollo) should be available -- all with lots of innovative applications.
RIM's relevance in the market is anything but assured.
It's not that most consumers care about mobile operating systems perse, but the total ecosystem of OS, applications, hardware and services. It all has to come together.
The cellular industry would like more than two main operating systems -- iOS and Android -- and right now it's a war for third place. Both iOS and Android have ecosystems. iOS is more extensive, but Android has the tie-in to all those Google services, such as Gmail and Docs (and Drive), as well as hundreds of thousands of apps.
Windows Phone is a good OS and has more than 60,000 apps, from what I've read. However, it hasn't caught on with consumers, and, so far, it doesn't have absolutely great flagship phones. The Lumia 900 is very nice, but compare it to the iPhone 4S and the highest end Android phones.
Samsung is about to announce the new Galaxy S III (or whatever it will be called), and HTC has two great phones, the One X and One S.
When you look at how difficult it has been for Windows Phone -- with all of Microsoft's resources -- to make an appreciable dent in the phone market -- you realize how tough RIM's job is.
I could say I spent hours sweating over composing that headline. But I didn't even write it! I wrote a more mundane headline, and I don't know who changed it.
Frankly, when I saw it I wondered whether it might be a bit too pessimistic. I don't know. I don't think BlackBerry 10 will be "old" by the end of the year, but it might not be better -- or sufficiently better -- than the other mobile operating systems.
RIM needs to execute brilliantly -- great OS, great and numerous applications, great hardware and great advertising and marketing. I'm not saying they are dead, but it's an extremely difficult challenge, and even a very cool OS isn't enough.
The desktop market seemed to settle down to Windows, Mac, Linux + variants... but the mobile phone industry has traditionally supported a wide variety of custom embedded OSes.... so does there really need to be only a handful of smartphone OSes? What factors determine how many mobile OSes can co-exist? Why do consumers care about mobile OSes? Are there that many incompatible mobile apps out there? (It's not like there's a Microsoft Office suite on smartphones that forces everyone to use a particular mobile OS...)
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