The BlackBerry is dying. Yes, RIM is selling a lot of BlackBerry phones, especially abroad. But look at the sad truth here in the U.S.: there hasn’t been a major BlackBerry launch since last August’s Torch, which has appeared only on AT&T.
It’s time for something new, something radical, and something powerful, and just sticking a bunch of touchscreens on the existing BlackBerry interface isn’t it.
Boy Genius Report has given a pretty good perspective on the type of phones that might be introduced at BlackBerry World this year, which starts on Monday. According to Boy Genius—and remember, none of this is official, and some of it may be wrong—we could see a “Bold Touch” with a 1.2GHz processor and a 640×480 touchscreen, some sort of evolved Storm with a 1.2GHz processor and 3.7-inch, 800×480 screen, a new Torch, and a new Curve.
It’s obvious that RIM understands some of its problems here. Their phones are being driven relentlessly down market, turning into cheap texting devices as they trail behind Apple, Android and Windows phones in terms of specs, apps and easy-to-use interfaces.
So, faster BlackBerries with high-res touchscreens are a must. But they don’t address the core problem, which is BlackBerry OS 6.
What’s Needed: An All-New OS
We’re in the middle of a transition right now from 1999-era mobile operating systems to 2010-era OSes. It’s good and healthy to update your core software every ten years or so. HP/Palm did it, moving from Palm OS to WebOS. Microsoft did it. Nokia is doing it, in a way.
RIM has showed it has the pieces in place to make the transition: the QNX core, the Torch Mobile Web browser, and the TAT interface elements all made their debut on the buggy but encouraging PlayBook tablet last month. RIM’s new platform obviously isn’t totally ready, but it looks like the company will have a much more finished product by this summer.
Last night RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie, on a conference call, said the next version of the BlackBerry phone OS would be called “BlackBerry 7” and include a better browser and better graphics. But if it’s still using the old BlackBerry core, it’s just putting patches on a sinking ship, trying to prevent RIM’s customer base from completely draining away over the next six months.
(Also, RIM used that “better browser” line before, with BlackBerry 6; the browser there is unimpressive in 2011.)
Face it: RIM has lost the battle for mobile developers, and for smartphone consumers, with its current OS. When I meet developers, I often find people who develop enthusiastically for iOS, grudgingly for Android and not at all for BlackBerry. Yes, there are thousands of apps in App World, but the number is very disproportionate to the platform’s huge installed base. Developers just don’t find it appealing.
RIM needs to give us something to believe in, and that must be QNX on phones. Tell a story. Show some screen shots. Heck, show some concept screen shots. Give a clear timeline for filling in the gaps in the PlayBook (email, please) and tell us how and when you’re overhauling the phone OS.
While they’re at it, RIM also needs to show off that QNX native development environment we’ve been hearing about. Adobe Air, Java and Android apps add “tonnage,” as Balsillie said, but the best QNX apps will be developed with this mysterious native kit. How easy is it to use? And will apps developed for the PlayBook run equally well on QNX phones? (Please.)
Can Lazaridis Show Us The Light?
It would also help if co-CEO Mike Lazaridis doesn’t put his foot in his mouth during his two-hour speech Tuesday morning. I’ve been baffled by some of the gaffes Lazaridis has made recently. I’ve known him for six years, and he’s a smart, enthusiastic engineer who really understands the technologies he works with. It’s like he’s so confused by being the underdog, he doesn’t know how to respond.
We all know RIM is going to go through a tough six months. That’s OK. Even if they didn’t sell a single phone in the next six months, they won’t go out of business—too much of their revenue is in things like server installations and support contracts. And they will sell phones, especially in emerging markets like India.
But we need to see the light at the end of this tunnel. Lazaridis hinted at it back in January when he covered half of a PlayBook and said to imagine that as a phone. Now, at BlackBerry World, on his company’s biggest stage of the year, he needs to show us, not a stopgap, but that future.