Could 2013 be the year that RIM recovers and BlackBerry becomes an important mobile platform again? January 30th is the key day, when the new BlackBerry 10 smartphone platform is launched.
We have seen a kind of preview of BlackBerry 10 in the unsuccessful PlayBook tablet, released in April 2011. This is the first RIM product based on the QNX operating system. QNX Software Systems was acquired by RIM a year earlier, in April 2010. That said, the PlayBook runs the PlayBook OS, not (yet) BlackBerry 10. BlackBerry 10 SmartPhones will have a new user interface and many new features.
I spoke to William Vablais, Head of Developer Relations EMEA for RIM. "We've been very successful in changing the sentiment of developers," he claims. "The interest level has been rising significantly."
One would expect him to say nothing less. But what is distinctive about the BlackBerry 10 platform; what does the it give you that couldn't easily be done on iOS, Android or something else?
Vablais points first to the diversity of development approaches it supports.
"We have SDKs for C/C++, we have entry points for designers and developers for HTML and CSS, we have entry points for Adobe AIR," he says.
There is also an Android runtime which makes it possible to repackage Android apps. Vablais observes that it can pay to offer your app on a minority platform.
"There's a community out there that developed for Android who don't have any exposure or visibility in that world because it's such an overcrowded market," he says. "They can take their application, port it to our platform, and suddenly they get visibility, generating revenue."
Fair enough, but what does the BlackBerry 10 platform give you that cannot easily be done on some other platform?
Vablais points to two key BlackBerry 10 features that he believes will draw users to the platform. One is social netwok integration. "We have the social network capabilities built into the OS," he says, referring to BlackBerry Flow and BlackBerry Hub:
BlackBerry® Flow is a new user experience that allows seamless navigation across open applications and the BlackBerry® Hub. All messages, notifications, feeds, and calendar events come into the BlackBerry Hub and no matter what the user is doing with the device, with a simple gesture, they can peek into the Hub at any time.
says the press release,
More important to business users though is security. "What no-one else has is that the OS and the framework has been based on security. The user interface and some of the components allow you to split out work related data from your personal related data."
This is the feature called BlackBerry Balance. Again, here is the official description:
BlackBerry® Balance™ offers the most elegant way to satisfy both customer and corporate needs without compromising on either. With BlackBerry Balance, personal apps and information are kept separate from work data, and the customer can switch from their personal to work profile with a simple gesture. The work profile is fully encrypted and secure, enabling organizations to protect their content and applications, while at the same time letting customers get the most out of their smartphone for their personal use.
In the era of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), this does sound like a great feature. The industry is only just coming to terms with the idea that smart devices are personal; they do not live in the office and they will be used as home as well as at work. If BlackBerry 10 makes sense of maintaining work and personal data on a single device without compromising security or the user experience, then it could indeed be a game changer.
The success of the original BlackBerry phones was primarily based on its appeal to business users, and RIM already has tools for deploying internal apps in a managed and secure manner.
Even an excellent platform counts for nothing if you cannot market it successfully in a world now dominated by iOS and Android, as Microsoft has discovered with Windows Phone. Whether RIM has enough resources to establish yet another mobile ecosystem must be an open question.
At the same time, there is a lot to like. QNX has long been an excellent embedded operating system, and if the devices are excellent and the security lives up to its promise, BlackBerry 10 could be a significant platform for mobile buisiness apps.
Mark January 30th in your diaries and watch with interest.