I, for one, am happy that BlackBerry 10 looks like it’s not going to suck. In fact, going by an extended hands-on demo posted on TechCrunch today, one might even go so far as to say that it’s really good. That’s welcome news, and if you’ve ever had anything to do with a startup, you should be happy too.
For whatever reason, people in the tech community have enjoyed mocking RIM as the BlackBerry has lost market share and faded since the arrival of that phone that Apple makes. It’s easy to see why: RIM is fusty; the BlackBerry was for businessmen; it had physical keyboards; it’s yesterday’s child; Apple is so much sexier and cooler. Its execs make cringe-worthy music videos of almost Microsoft-grade cheesiness. Worse, RIM is Canadian.
Headline sample time!
- RIM serenades fleeing developers with LOLWTF video
- RIM shoots self in foot, puts foot in mouth
- Research In Motion is dead
- RIM employee: RIM sucks, look at Apple
- RIM disappoints once again, BB10 delayed
- BB10 adds so many features that so few people want
And let’s not waste our time wading into blog comments that proclaim good riddance to RIM – if you’ve been anywhere near them, you know what the vitriol looks like. There have been uncomfortable helpings of glee expressed at RIM’s supposed impending demise. Critics have already pre-engraved the company’s headstone, just waiting for the flop of its all-or-nothing BB10 operating system, which, predictably, has already been declared a failure.
That shit makes me sad. Truth is, RIM was once – arguably still is – an innovator. The BlackBerry was, for a while, a killer device. It’s still not terrible. It just got upstaged by the iPhone, which is an extraordinary device. The iPhone changed the world’s understanding of what a phone should be. Apple should, and does, get tremendous credit for that. But that doesn’t mean we should all turn around and laugh at RIM for… I dunno… not being Apple?
In fact, anyone who has ever been in a startup should be cheering for a RIM revival. If you think failure is hard when you’ve got three employees, consider what it’s like when you have 16,000 and almost an entire city depends on you. Think about what it’s like to one day be on top of the world, and on the next day get laughed at by smug, done-nothing critics who sit on their couches and deride a well-meaning music video you showed at a conference.
When it comes to innovating for smartphone platforms, consumers could use more competition. Today, the market is a three-way fight between iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 8. And considering Apple is determined to wield its patents as a way to prevent competition from using everything from swipes to rounded rectangles, we should welcome another powerful player that might help reinvent the smartphone paradigm. RIM is one of the few companies that have even a remote chance.
There might still be space for BlackBerry in the smartphone market. Apple has changed the meaning of what a phone should be, but it hasn’t done much to update its operating system in the last couple of iterations, at least in terms of how it looks and feels. Is that because it is beyond improvement? Android, meanwhile, continues to tweak its OS, but it so far hasn’t struck on any game-changing shifts. And Windows Phone 8 is showing that consumers can excited by a re-imagined user interface. Let’s see what ideas RIM can throw into the mix.
In today’s product demo, we learned what some of those ideas are. TechCrunch reports that:
- The gesture-based “Flow” navigation encourages a great sense of rhythm
- The camera features feel “amazing” and let you select better frames for individual faces and components of a particular shot
- The “extremely impressive” predictive keyboard adapts to a particular user’s typing habits
Those features may not ultimately be enough to get BlackBerry back in the game. Maybe the TC reviewer is getting overly excited. And even if BB10 is the best OS on the market, consumers might have already turned their backs on BlackBerry for good. RIM’s early attempts to modernize BlackBerry were clunky and awful – if you need to jog your memory on that, read Wired’s piece on RIM’s “milestones of failure.” Those stumbles might ultimately prove fatal in the long term. Changing its perception problems is an unenviable, and perhaps unachievable, task.
Another major issue for RIM will be convincing developers to build for its new ecosystem. Kayak’s chief architect told my colleague Nathaniel Mott this week that the company doesn’t even have a full-time engineer working on a BlackBerry app. He compared it to Palm’s ill-fated webOS: Good concept, awesome OS, but the audience just isn’t there.
It’s exactly because of these unfavorable odds that we should be rooting for RIM. If it ultimately does die, everyone loses. And remember, RIM was once a feisty startup too. Its injection of fresh ideas into mobile OS development should be welcomed, because they up the ante for everyone’s expectations of what a phone can do.