This morning, beleaguered hardware manufacturer and BlackBerry platform developer Research in Motion took to its North American BlackBerry Jam conference to offer developers a state of the union on the status of the company and the current state of the forthcoming BB10 platform due for release next year.
Carrier Testing Begins Next Month
First, CEO Thorsten Heins confirmed that the manufacturer would be sending BlackBerry hardware with BB10 to its carrier partners beginning next month while repeatedly assuring developers and press that the BB10 platform was still on schedule for its latest release timeframe. The CEO went further, by demonstrating the latest revision of its BB10 Dev Alpha Platform hardware in Version B which is being provided to remaining BlackBerry developers in order to ease development of new services and applications.
The Dev Alpha B hardware features upgraded hardware from the A version, but is otherwise the same test bed for the new operating system with a 1280×768 display (the default resolution for BB10), dual-core processor, microSD slot with 3.5mm headphone jack, though final hardware will be markedly different in terms of features.
BB10: Real-time multitasking, integrated Hub signal major changes
BB10 has been improved since the first Alpha Dev hardware was shipped to developers last year and now features more improvements taken from other operating systems, among them the new BlackBerry Hub. While the concept of a unified hub is not new, BB10’s implementation may be the best yet, as it includes new gestures for direct access from the homescreen, such as a bottom swipe up to look at notifications, and a swipe to the right allows direct access to the relevant alerts without needing to launch dedicated apps.
Another key change in BB10 is the implementation of real-time multitasking, a marked change from the multitasking functionality present in previous versions of the operating system where the homescreen can now host up to eight running apps that can update in real-time, in a nod to Windows Phone’s real-time tile homescreen interface. RIM has taken the multitasking idea further by allowing developers full access to the API responsible for the new Hub functionality and multitasking support in order to tailor applications around the additional functionality. BB10 also heralds the debut of a newly developed virtual keyboard with predictive langiuage detection as well as the usual predictive text functionality found in the new software such as spellchecking and context-aware text entry.
Finally, integrating functionality first present on Nokia’s E-Series devices, BB10 will now allow for separate personal and work profiles with the data from each profile being saved to each respective profile, and again RIM has taken the idea further by allowing apps from either profile to run as needed regardless of the selected profile while saving the data to the correct profile. This will allow corporate deployment of BB10 with more refined control of device profiles and access.
In additional news, RIM has also announced native versions of the most popular social networking apps such as Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook and LinkedIn while BlackBerry App World will be open to BB10 developer submissions beginning on October 10th. BlackBerry App World will also begin to offer an improved multimedia selection with music, TV shows and movies beginning next year in time for the BB10 launch.
Analysis on the changes
With the latest updates on BB10, RIM has made the necessary improvements and additions to the platform in order to maintain parity with iOS and Android, but the biggest problem is, who’s going to consider the BlackBerry when the landscape has already settled on iOS and Android, with Windows Phone 8 becoming the new de facto third-place platform? RIM still has a lot of ground to make up, especially as carriers have cleared shelf space normally reserved for the BlackBerry and are now dedicating that to Android or Windows Phone if they don’t already carry the iPhone.
RIM will have to not only convince developers and carriers that BB10 is worth the investment, but it will have to do so with the reality that it no longer defines the smartphone and consumers have effectively moved on in the US market. The new operating system may be a hit in the rest of the world where the manufacturer still has an advantage over Android and iOS in several markets, but at the end of the day the US is still the most important market for smartphones and even with these improvements, it may be too late for RIM to correct its slide.