Blackberry bushes love the Northwest. They grow like crazy here and are generally considered a weed. In the spring blackberry bushes flower and then the fruit grows through the summer, with full bloom in August. The fruit is delicious but often very hard to get to as the plant has some nasty thorns. There’s a fast food chain here called Burgerville that specializes in fresh fruit milkshakes. Their blackberry shakes are to die for. None of this has to do with BlackBerry, the product (and now company as RIM changed its name) but I couldn’t resist the fruit/plant discussion.
I saved a whole mess of articles on BlackBerry announcements last week. I’m looking for signs of life and, frankly, a clue. I may be one of the few people on the face of the planet that believes strongly that there is room for a third mobile platform. I think iPhone and Android are basically attacking the same market segment — entertainment-centric people — and there is room for a product well positioned as an information-centric platform. At one time RIM was well positioned to capitalize on that market with its messaging-centric devices.
So the question I’ve been asking myself for the past month since the company name change, BlackBerry 10 and new devices were announced is this: can BlackBerry be that company.
There are some potential signs of life from the things CEO Thorsten Heins at the announcement. He said his devices are aimed at “people who need to get things done, people who need simplicity, and balance” and “people who consider true multitasking a must have.” Okay, maybe some signs of life. But then Heins also said, “hyper-connected social multi-taskers” and “We will soon give you more ways to connect your mobile experience to not just other people, but the whole world around you,” neither of which, frankly mean much of anything.
What does it mean to be an information-centric user? It means that the devices are designed and meant to make us more productive, caring less about entertaining us. Let me give you some examples, some of which could be accomplished today and some of which are dreams of a better future:
- Calendar, contacts and tasks are all interconnected seamlessly across all devices
- Devices are smart enough to change directions for you when it sees you have steered off course
- Devices talk to parking meters and tell us which spot, closest to my meeting, is available
- It monitors my calendar and traffic patterns and tells me that I need to leave
- It sees a meeting request and automatically schedules it tentatively, waiting for approval
- It knows all the information I’ve created and all the connections I have and tells me all about a person as I walk into the meeting
This is the tip of the iceberg, obviously, and the one company who is doing any of this is Google.
Jean Louis-Gassée backs this up with an article on why iPad just isn’t up-to-snuff as a professional tool. ”But when we take a closer look at the iPad ‘Pro’, we see that Apple’s tablet is far from realizing its ‘professional’ potential. … The more complex the task, the more our beloved 30-year-old personal computer is up to it. But there is now room above the enforced simplicity that made the iPad’s success for UI changes allowing a modicum of real-world ‘Pro’ workflow on iPads.”
Back to BlackBerry. There was nothing in the BB10 announcements and reviews that left me believing that RIM has this perspective. Here’s a few additional quotes:
- Walt Mossberg review: “If you use a corporate network controlled by an IT department, and want to keep your work and personal apps separate, BB10 has a simple way to do it. You just swipe down and press a button called “Personal” or “Work” and the apps, and even the background, change. However, email and calendar entries are still intermingled.” A sign of hope. At least they get the dual use for devices.
- Interview with CEO Thorsten Heinz, answering the question, “What does BlackBerry mean to you?” Heinz said, “Innovating in the field of mobile computing by being bold.” I have no idea what that means. What? Android isn’t bold? Apple’s sitting on their laurels?
- Alec Saunders, VP Developer Relations from a developer event in Amsterdam: The themes BlackBerry wants to encourage for BB10 apps are “integrated, social and beautiful”, he said. ”Don’t just port the apps you’ve built over — build us applications that are specifically for BlackBerry 10.” You don’t want popular apps just new stuff? And how is “integrated, social and beautiful” different then the apps on iOS and Android?
- Joshua Topolsky in his Z10 review talks extensively about apps. He highlights a few of the bundled ones: Messages, Camera, Maps, Browser, Remember and Story Maker. Camera and Story Maker (a video editing app) are primarily consumer-oriented. Browser is a requirement for all. Remember, Maps and Messages are all prosumer apps. Unfortunately Topolsky’s biggest problems are with the prosumer apps. He particularly finds the Messages app, Blackberry’s original claim to fame, slow and painful for anyone who gets lots of messages. Maps, he said, is horrible at directions. He does mention that Dropbox, Evernote and other third-party services can be added at the operating system level.
Maybe the reality of these devices in professional hands will prove differently. Or maybe BlackBerry felt they needed to match iOS and Android strengths before moving in its own direction, something I don’t believe but could be enticing for an also-ran uncomfortable in its own shoes. But I highly doubt either of these are the case. My gut tells me BlackBerry is in an awkward position and will never again regain its former glory.