Is The New Blackberry A Big Deal?

So, the new Blackberry devices and their new operating system are out. Proponents are expecting it to return RIM to the top of the smartphone heap. The more realistic, however, see this device for what it is: a last gasp attempt for RIM to keep Blackberry relevant in a world that they were a big part of (globally) or virtually owned (in North America). In the areas that matter to consumers, the Z10 and BB10 aren’t “better enough” to matter. Sure, the underpinnings are finally a modern operating system, with modern frameworks and tools. At the end of the day, it’s just another touchscreen minitablet that runs some apps. The details may vary, but the general bits are “more of the same”.

Hardly A Revolution

I’ve tried out BB10 in their developer simulator (cleverly packaged as a VMWare virtual machine. That’s a cool idea). Granted, it’s not exactly the same as using the real device, but it is a good enough approximation to get a feel for what things look like, and how they work. I haven’t tried building apps using the BB10 tools (yet), so I can’t comment on how good or bad they are. But I have some views on the operating system itself.

From a user perspective, it isn’t horrible, but it isn’t exactly revolutionary. It’s got apps. You tap things to make them work. Given the examples available in iOS and Android, getting that part right shouldn’t be hard. Seriously, if they couldn’t even get that part to work well, then the rest wouldn’t have mattered anyways. For the average consumer, it’s just another touchscreen phone, and one with limited content and a paltry number of apps.

Security Lead Temporary

BB10 is still more secure than iOS, and orders of magnitude better than Android. But for what most consumers need, iOS is still “good enough”. Even for most corporations, iOS security isn’t truly terrible. Fortunately for iOS, Apple isn’t ignoring security, and whatever advantage BB10 still holds over iOS is temporary.

BB10 does also offer the traditional enterprise integration, but given the continued rise of iOS and Android in the enterprise setting, that doesn’t seem to matter to businesses as much. Even if BB10 were to somehow regain a foothold in the enterprise, the reality is that the big money in smartphones are consumers. Between personal use, plus the Bring Your Own Device approach to personal IT resources, the consumer market means far, far more.

Too Far Gone To Save?

I’m just not sure that RIM can come back from a paltry 2% (and shrinking) marketshare to come back to being a big player, let alone be dominant in some markets. Yes, Apple went from zero to over half of the US market and about 1/3rd of the global market in 5 years. But that was at a time where the market was still in flux, and what the smartphone market would look like was still to be determined. Up until 2007, smartphones were a corporate device. Very few consumers bothered with them. The iPhone, and the Android phones that followed immediately afterward, shifted that balance. Enterprises didn’t care about apps and content. Consumers did, and those apps and that content drove Android and iOS from nothing to now owning a combined 90-95% of all new smartphones sold globally.

The biggest names in smartphones are either gone, or no longer relevant. Symbian is officially gone, the last device being made in 2012. PalmOS came and went, and WebOS died an early death. Windows Mobile was displaced by Windows Phone, and it has gone nowhere. The Blackberry was the image of the smartphone in North America, and it is now a shadow of its former self.

BB10 doesn’t change that in any meaningful way. It isn’t leading, it is following. It is another “me too” touchscreen operating system. Without apps and contents, consumers will continue to ignore it. Its industrial design, while not horrible, doesn’t set any new benchmarks for design or taste. It’s yet another plastic touchscreen smartphone in a market crowded by touchscreen smartphones.