The hardware question mark
RIM is passing out to developers this week some number of smartphone-like prototypes so coders can begin to design and test BlackBerry 10 apps. Purported photos of the prototype have surfaced in the last couple of days, including these at CrackBerry.com. The pictures show the impact of Apple's iPhone and the limits of the basic design: Currently, smartphones are rectangular screens that fit more or less into one's palm.
As RIM pivoted from the enterprise to the consumer space, its sales skyrocketed quarter after quarter, as consumers paid for a growing range of BlackBerry phone models offering the distinctive qwerty keyboard with various-size screens. But in the past two quarters, sales have plunged, even with the advent of BlackBerry 7 OS and the mid-2010 release of the full-touch BlackBerry Torch smartphone. The value of the brand seems to have suddenly collapsed, almost as fast as a punctured balloon.
RIM has prided itself on its engineering. But few would call the early BlackBerry email handsets beautiful or elegant. The heritage of RIM's design has been its focus on engineering, not style. And for many, especially younger consumers, email is far less important than communication via social networks as diverse as Facebook, Google and Twitter.
Has the software revolution at RIM coincided with a hardware and design revolution? The first phones running the new BB10 firmware are due out later this year, with the latest rumors pointing to August announcements and October releases. RIM's CEO could decide to give a peek at what's in development, or he could let it ride until new products are fully baked.
But as was the case with Nokia and Windows Phone 7, RIM's first BB10 phones may be evolutions of its current models, with more radical changes scheduled for 2013.
More software, on the backend
RIM's investment in the BlackBerry Enterprise Server is as much emotional as financial. The announcement of BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, as a new application for managing not just BlackBerry but iOS and Android devices, is a first attempt to leverage the BES strengths and apply them to the rapidly changing world of mobility.
A number of sessions at BlackBerry World have been scheduled to elaborate on the relationship and direction of BES, and Mobile Fusion. Historically, BES has been an enterprise play. It will be interesting to see if RIM brings the capabilities of BES forward into the consumer space, emphasizing issues that could resonant with end users as much as with enterprise IT professionals: configuring devices, optimizing both devices and apps, security and safety, and a doorway into a wider world of cloud-based services.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Blog RSS feed: http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/2989/feed
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