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Research In Motion’s new BlackBerry software looks cool, but I don’t have high hopes for it.
BlackBerry 10, which is slated to start showing up on RIM smartphones later this year, has some innovative new features that will set it apart from Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.
But the update is years late, and the new software is not far-and-away superior to iOS or Android. Perhaps worst of all, RIM is ignoring the needs of current BlackBerry customers by failing to provide them with an easy transition.
We’ve seen this play before, and we know how it ends: In disaster.
The BlackBerry software has long needed an overhaul. Compared with Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7, RIM’s OS is ugly and difficult to use. It was designed before touch-screen phones were the norm and, though modified to work on those devices, looks and feels jerry-built.
By contrast, the new OS, which I got a glimpse of earlier this month at a meeting with RIM representatives, looks and feels contemporary. It’s designed from the ground up for large-display, touch-screen devices, with large icons and full-screen, well-designed applications. Taking a page from Microsoft, it includes program tiles that can act like widgets, showing updated information such as the current weather or stock price.
One neat feature, called Flow UI, allows users to view alerts, such as new email messages, by swiping from one corner. By swiping
further, they can directly switch to the application that sent the alert. Flow also allows users to switch back and forth between their inbox and an individual message by simply swiping. The system is intuitive to use and an improvement on similar features found in iOS and Android.
BlackBerry 10 has other compelling features. Notably, its camera application allows users to instantly improve photos of friends or family members whose eyes are closed. The app both recognizes faces and starts recording images before you press the shutter button. If the face in your photo doesn’t look right, you can replace it immediately with the same face captured instants before.
But as innovative as these features may be, I don’t think they’ll save RIM, which has seen its market share and sales slide sharply in recent years thanks to competition from Android and Apple.
Partly that’s because BlackBerry 10 is really late to the party. It’s been five years since Apple released the first iPhone and revolutionized the smartphone market. It’s been nearly four years since the first Android phones hit store shelves.
RIM should have come out with a revamped BlackBerry software three or four years ago, before Android and iOS took over the market. Now, at best, its going to be scrounging for third place with Microsoft, whose own updated phone software still hasn’t caught on with the general public despite coming out nearly two years ago.
BlackBerry 10 is not just too late but also too little; it isn’t a big enough advance in the fast-moving smartphone market. Apple’s iOS and Android took off in part because they were vast improvements on what preceded them, the first-generation of smartphone software from the likes of Nokia, Palm and, yes, RIM.
BlackBerry 10 is a big improvement on the old BlackBerry software, but isn’t revolutionary or compelling enough to lure consumers back to BlackBerry from their iPhones or Android devices.
So that leaves RIM with trying to retain its existing BlackBerry customers. With some 77 million active BlackBerry users worldwide, that’s a significant customer base. But RIM isn’t making it easy for them to stick around.
Despite sharing a name, the BlackBerry 10 is unrelated to previous versions of the BlackBerry software and won’t run older BlackBerry apps. Consumers who have invested in BlackBerry programs face the prospect of buying all new ones if they upgrade to a BlackBerry 10 phone. And companies that have designed a suite of BlackBerry applications for their employees could soon find those being obsolete.
In either situation, current customers are almost certainly going to ask if it’s worth it to switch to BlackBerry 10. If they are faced with the prospect of changing to a whole new platform anyway, they almost certainly will consider switching instead to one of the market leaders: iOS or Android.
It’s amazing to me that RIM is forsaking its older BlackBerry customers in this way, especially after seeing what’s happened to Palm and Nokia. Like RIM, both of those companies replaced their aging smartphone operating systems with new and improved ones that were years late and incompatible. The result: Their older customers abandoned them. Palm ended up in history’s dustbin, and Nokia, which last week announced it was laying off another 10,000 workers, is in danger of heading the same way.
RIM looks to be following the same path.