RIM faces "make or break" with BlackBerry 10
It's finally go time at Research In Motion. After delays that have tested the resolve of even its most enthusiastic customers, the Canadian company will finally launch its BlackBerry 10 OS on Wednesday and the stakes couldn't be higher.
The company, which once ruled the mobile messaging market with handsets that encouraged such devoted use that they were compared to crack cocaine, has seen a rough few years. It's market share, down by more than half in the last year alone, has collapsed as it failed to match increasingly attractive touchscreen smartphones and the changing demands of consumers.
BlackBerry 10 is meant to change all that.
"This is a huge launch for RIM," said Ted Schadler, principal analyst at Forrester Research. "They held off shipping it until it was ready, they made sure there were no bugs. Clearly they wanted to make sure they had the best product in the hands of the right people and the most carriers. That tells you a lot about what's riding on this for them."
"This product has to work for them, it's make or break time for RIM," he said.
So far, the response from those who have used the new software and the first phones has been good.
"It's a really positive step for the company," said Ramon Llamas, an analyst with IDC. "It puts BlackBerry on the same level as Apple, Android and Windows Phone and brings them into 2013 rather than being stuck back in 2010."
One of the areas that's getting a lot of the early attention is the phone's messaging hub, which brings together emails, Facebook messages, Twitter direct messages, SMS and all the other messaging options in the phone. All messages can be read and replied to from the hub, which is available from any screen on the phone.
"On another platform, you'd have to open those applications to respond," said Schadler. "RIM has it so that with a swipe, you can peek into the hub."
The phone's divide between personal and work modes has also been praised. Security settings in work mode can be completely determined and customized by the employer, corporate email can be accessed and company intranet sites visited all without mixing any of that data with the personal mode. In the latter mode, the user is free to do whatever they want on the phone, and there shouldn't be any impact on the potentially confidential data stored on the work side of the device.
"I liked the navigation," said Chris Hazelton, an analyst with The 451 Group, who said he'd used one of the first handsets that RIM will unveil next week with partner Verizon Wireless. "It's different. It's a good way to manage multiple applications and I didn't notice any lag. I was very impressed with the performance of the device."
The messaging and work mode is playing to one of RIM's strengths: it's long relationship with corporate IT departments. Those IT departments have to deploy RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server to run the corporate BlackBerry platform and, for the first time, the software also supports management of devices running Apple's iOS and Google's Android.
"I'm still not sold on this strategy," said Hazleton. "It's not like RIM had a choice in not supporting iOS and Android, but that opens the door to supporting other devices in BlackBerry shops."
Brandon Porco, the chief technologist for defense contractor Northrop Grumman, says that IT will have to try lots of different things and move quickly to keep abreast of evolving employee needs. "Google has it very well-patterned: Launch and iterate."
Although Apple is often accused of not being an enterprise company, it's only in the last few years that Apple has abandoned its enterprise-oriented products. The real story may be that Apple's discovered that making enterprise-focused efforts simply don't deliver a huge return on investment.
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