LAST WEEK saw Research in Motion (RIM) launch the Blackberry 10 (BB10) mobile operating system (OS), commonly understood to be its final shot at global success.
The company is quite openly pinning all of its hopes on this slick new OS, which has been designed from the ground up to give the company a fresh new image. However, in my opinion RIM didn't need to announce a complete image overhaul, it needed to focus on what it did well.
At the launch in Orlando last week, RIM said that the upcoming Blackberry 10 OS will truly "wow" customers, and Thorstein Heins gave an enthusiastic keynote that managed to get me and those in attendence excited about the new platform. Rightly so too, as some of the features are fanastic, especially its intuitive onscreen QWERTY keypad, which makes my Iphone alternative look dull in comparison. The camera features are also brilliant, reminding me of those on the HTC One X, and the swipe-based user interface is a pleasure to look at.
All in all, from what we saw at Blackberry World, the new software is absolutely great, a huge improvement on the Blackberry OS you'll find on RIM's recent devices, which for a few years now have looked dated compared to the competition.
However, in my opinion, RIM couldn't have been more wrong in its decision to completely overhaul the Blackberry experience. With BB10, the company is pitting itself against the smartphone big boys Samsung, Apple, HTC and others, where the company doesn't have much chance of succeeding. Instead, RIM should have taken what it does best - physical keyboards, email, Blackberry Messenger (BBM) and enterprise features and support - and made those things better.
The few people I know that still wield Blackberry phones do so purely for the physical Qwerty keypad and email features and not for the Blackberry logo emblazoned on the front, and I know a couple who have upgraded to the Blackberry Bold 9900 solely for its upgraded keyboard.
I'm using the Blackberry Curve 9320 as my main device for communicating too and, even as a dedicated Iphone user, I just can't get enough of those little Qwerty keys.
"BlackBerry 10 builds upon the core values and exceptional user experiences that have attracted more than 77 million Blackberry customers around the world today," said Alec Saunders, VP of Developer Relations and Ecosystems Development at RIM at the launch of Blackberry 10 last week.
However, I thought the core values of the Blackberry brand were its ability to provide a secure email service for users as well as fantastic Qwerty keyboards - things that were hardly mentioned at all during the flashy keynote.
With Blackberry 10, a Research In Motion spokesperson told The INQUIRER on Thursday, the company will focus mainly on fully-touchscreen devices, as demonstrated by the 4.2in developer device that was handed out at Blackberry World and which looks near identical to the Iphone 4S. This strategy will see RIM going head to head with the Iphone 5 and latest Google Nexus handset, and no matter how good Blackberry 10 is, the company will be unable to compete well against such popular devices. RIM simply doesn't have the ability to deliver something that's on a par with its competitors.
That's not all that RIM has got wrong with Blackberry 10. The company has confirmed, as if it's no big deal, that existing Blackberry phones, those running RIM's newly-released Blackberry OS 7, won't be upgraded to its next Blackberry 10 OS, and this is a big kick in the teeth to its loyal Blackberry customers. How would Android users react if Google announced that it would launch a completely reworked version of Android that wouldn't be compatible with all the existing devices running Android software? I think we all know that wouldn't go down very well at all.
It remains to be seen whether RIM will continue to support devices such as the new Blackberry Curve 9320 and Blackberry Bold 9900, for which lack of support from the latest operating system will tarnish users' perception of the flailing Canadian phone maker.
Don't get me wrong, RIM has made a breakthrough with Blackberry 10, but the company is fighting the wrong war. It needs to focus on becoming, once again, the number one choice for enterprise users and for those after a phone with a great physical keypad. Instead, it's going after the wrong audience, consumers who are already drooling over the latest Samsung flagship or avidly reading up on the rumoured specifications of the next Apple Iphone.
RIM had a niche in the mobile market, one that it should never have given up on. With Blackberry 10 not set to launch until October, Blackberry fans should hope that the company will realise that it's making a huge mistake and correct it. µ
Carly Page is News Editor of The INQUIRER.