The BlackBerry 10 (BB 10) phones that were introduced this week feature a spiffy operating system and lots of applications for a new OS. But are the phones enough to keep enterprises from defecting?
The Company Formerly Known as Research In Motion demonstrated its two new handsets: the Z10 with an all-touch screen and the Q10 with a touch screen and a physical keyboard. The company also announced it had changed its name to BlackBerry. So when I refer to BlackBerry, it's the company.
The Z10 could be considered BlackBerry's flagship. It features a 4.2-inch display with a 1,280x768 resolution, a 1.5 GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot, an eight-megapixel back camera, a two-megapixel front camera, 1,080p video recording, NFC, and a user-replaceable battery.
The Q10 has similar specifications, but the screen is 3.1 inches and has a 720x720 resolution.
The Z10 is expected to be available at US cellular operators in March and cost $200 with a two-year contract. The Q10 will ship in April. The reviews of the Z10 have been good, though not spectacular. It has no physical buttons on the front, because BB 10 is based on numerous swiping gestures. At first glance, it's not entirely intuitive, but tutorials will be included with the phone and are available on the web.
The new OS has definite advantages for enterprises. The browser has been redesigned and is possibly the most HTML5-compliant browser on the market, which will be especially useful for corporate web apps.
It has the same great push email integrated into a new BlackBerry Hub, which can include different email and social networking accounts. That isn't a unique concept, but it can be convenient for business users who need to track multiple accounts quickly.
Also convenient is the BlackBerry Remember application, which can store documents, photos, videos, and voice notes in folders. This application is integrated with Evernote, the note-saving program many employees love. One of the most interesting features is the new video chat app that lets one user share the phone's screen with a second user, so they can view the same documents, photos, and videos.
As expected, the phones include all the privacy, security, and device management software that IT departments know and love, including BlackBerry Balance. This very useful program sandboxes personal and business apps on two different screens, so corporate email and Twitter accounts are kept separate from personal accounts. Also, data can't be transferred between business and personal apps. IT departments can configure and wipe business apps remotely.
BlackBerry Balance requires the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, so consumers without corporate accounts won't even see Balance on their phones. However, Balance is definitely designed for the millions of consumers-as-employees who bring their own iPhones and Android phones to work. Balance was developed in part to keep employees from deserting BlackBerry.
As a personal phone, the Z10 has promise. It includes several new programs, including Story Maker for creating videos from video clips, photos, and music, along with new camera software for picking the best photo from several shots. BlackBerry's revitalized software developer program has done a great job getting 70,000 apps for the new OS, and more are on the way.
As a result of BB 10, enterprises that have standardized on BlackBerry's phones will have an easier time persuading employees to try the more consumer-oriented handsets, rather than demanding their own phones. Also, lovers of the company's physical keyboards might love the Q10, though the screen is too small for a consumer phone.
However, the promise of BB 10 has yet to be fulfilled. Many BB 10 apps are ports from Android apps and aren't as good as either the original Android apps or similar iPhone apps.
In addition, BlackBerry doesn't offer the ecosystems of Apple, Microsoft, and Google. The company doesn't have a desktop/laptop operating system like OS X, Windows 8, or even Chrome OS that integrates devices through Apple's iCloud, Microsoft's SkyDrive, and Google Drive, respectively. Consumers and enterprises are increasingly relying on these capabilities.
Except for users who must have BlackBerry's email or the best physical keyboard, so far nothing about BB 10 -- the OS, the phone hardware, or the applications -- will make most employees with iPhones and Android phones scream, "I must have it!" BB 10 is good, but it doesn't seem significantly better than the other operating systems.
If I were BlackBerry I would change my name...to anything other than BlackBerry! I guess I just have this really strong image of what a BlackBerry is -- this phone with the chicklet physical keyboard, being used by a 35 year old marketing executive talking non-stop in her car on the LA Freeway...in the mid 1990s! I'm sure those exist, but trendy people want their keyboards on the screen.
Many people don't even know the name Research In Motion. They know their phone as a BlackBerry and think that's also the company name. However, BlackBerry is a very well known brand, so changing the name makes sense. In fact, in some countries, BlackBerry is still a premium device, although that aura certainly has been fading.
However, I understand what you're saying about changing RIM's name to something that isn't burdened with the problems of the BlackBerry phones over the past several years.
In fact, some tech writers have suggested that Microsoft shouldn't have used "Windows" in the branding of Windows Phone or with the "Windows RT" tablet because of the negative connotations about the Windows operating system. Some suggested the name Metro, based on what Microsoft previously called its tiles-based GUI.
But with Ballmer at the helm, there's no way anything relating to Windows wouldn't be called...Windows.
Windows is different. People in "the industry" have this negative view of Windows from various problems, most of them from ten years ago. But the average person simply sees Windows, Microsoft and its leadership as mostly in a good light, along the lines of a company like Disney.
I think carrying the brand across all products makes sense. In fact, I have written that I think there is too much focus on cross platform and interoperability. What people really want is join one or the other camp. Look at Appleheads. They don't care what anyone does but Apple. I think there can be Windowsheads. There are certainly now Googleheads with Android and Chromebooks. And Samsungheads especially if they go all the way with Tizen.
People want to join a team and play for it from top to bottom, soup to nuts, car to home to mobile to work area to gaming room. So these OS/device combinations become like NFL teams with their own colors, styles, names. And so on...
I disagree with your first point about Microsoft. I think many consumers hate Windows because it crashes so often (or Flash crashes!) or things just go wrong or it's confusing. However, many people seem to love Apple computers and thought Steve Jobs was a god.
But the percentage of people who love Windows or Windows computers is small. People accept Windows are being good enough (for the most part) for their job, but there's not much enthusiasm.
Also, typical consumers have no knowledge of Microsoft's leaders, and if they do, they might know the name Steve Ballmer, but not care at all.
I use several platforms, but I'm not an average person when it comes to technology. I agree that most people like having products from a single platform and that's becoming much easier as Microsoft, Apple and Google increasingly offer a variety of devices integrated with cloud services. That's why I mentioned it as a problem for BlackBerry that doesn't have a desktop operating system, significant cloud services or a respected tablet.
I've been using and testing products from RIM/BlackBerry since before the company produced its own hardware. BlackBerry's messaging platform and security are excellent, but the operating systems of BlackBerry 5, 6 and 7 are mediocre.
BlackBerry 10 seems like a nice OS, but as I wrote, I don't think there's anything in BB 10 that will convince most iPhone and Android users to switch, at least so far.
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