It has been a huge day for Research In Motion, as the company just unveiled multiple BlackBerry 7 devices and these should land on a carrier near you within weeks (hopefully). These devices sport beefed up hardware and an updated operating system but are these enough to help RIM compete against the likes of Apple, HTC, Samsung and other handset makers?
Let’s take a look at the hardware, as RIM is showing off the BlackBerry Bold 9900, 9930, Torch 9810, Torch 9850 and 9860 (I understand its naming convention but hate it nonetheless). The company said that along with BlackBerry 7, “each smartphone also features a range of powerful hardware enhancements including a 1.2 GHz processor, HD video recording, 24-bit high resolution graphics, and advanced sensors enabling new augmented reality applications such as Wikitude that can be seamlessly integrated with BBM 6.” It’s calling the new OS a “performance driven platform.”
I’ve played with the Bold 9900 and Simon’s rocketing to Toronto to hang out with BlackBerry enthusiasts and the new devices tonight. Overall, I thought the new Bold was a nice piece of hardware with good-but-not-great hardware. When the original Torch came out, RIM defenders said that the speeds and feeds don’t necessarily matter compared to the overall experience.
I agree with that statement but also think it’s disingenuous to say that better hardware can’t lead to better experience. While RIM isn’t on the bleeding or cutting edge with its new devices, the BlackBerry 7 devices do pack enough horsepower to keep die-hard fans satisfied. A BlackBerry 7 device will definitely be a major upgrade from previous BlackBerry smartphones.
But is keeping a shrinking user base happy enough for RIM to succeed? One survey showed that 67 percent of current BlackBerry owners plan to switch to the next iPhone. Yes, you can dispute the methodology of that study but this is definitely not a good sign for RIM. What’s more troubling is that none of these new devices seem like they will bring in new users.
It’s not really a hardware issue but it’s the software and apps. When I hear RIM crow about the new direction of BlackBerry 7, I think, “Shouldn’t it have always been a performance driven platform?” I suppose you could say BlackBerry has been built on a communication driven platform but users want a sexy phone that can run the latest and greatest apps and I don’t see BlackBerry 7 moving the needle for developers. Yes, the social features of BBM 6 could make for some interesting apps but developer interest is steadily declining and RIM’s future platform strategy looks like a mess.
So, you’re a developer and you’re going to develop for RIM. It’s obviously not going to be your first choice unless you’re in a specialized market because Apple has paid out billions to developers and Android ownership is growing like a weed. But let’s say you want to create an original, innovative apps for BlackBerry – You could go for the “performance-driven” BlackBerry 7 or maybe create for the more-robust QNX even though it has a minuscule base but you know that it will eventually be RIM’s smartphone platform.
The other option is to just create a really good Android app and hope that it runs well on the BlackBerry Android emulator on QNX. It likely won’t be as good through the emulator but you’re risking less development costs by going with the more popular platform and anything you get from BlackBerry would be gravy. Which path do you think most talented developers would take? That’s a bit of inside baseball but it does impact consumers on a deep level because real people love apps and want the latest and greatest on their devices.
On both the hardware and software sides, RIM doesn’t appear to be taking many chances and this steady approach has already proven to be disastrous. I don’t expect RIM to be able to turn on a dime, as these devices and software have been in the works for years. My previous conversations with the company haven’t instilled confidence that it has made the long-term decisions necessary to better compete in the modern smartphone landscape.
Alright, I’ve had my say, now let us know what you think in the comments.