BlackBerry 10: Overcoming the Perception–Technology Disconnect

For the past 18 months RIM’s struggles have given the media and some investors fodder for recommending their “way ahead” in this tumultuous, transitioning world of mobile devices. Sell offs, splitting the company, acquisition, using a third party’s operating system are amongst the proposals put forward by various business media and investors. As posted a couple of months ago, one can forget all these proposals; RIM is forging ahead with its BlackBerry 10 phone, built around the QNX operating system acquired a couple of years ago.

But there’s one path that these proposals have ignored and the authors failed to recognize: leveraging the QNX technology to create an innovative and unique user experience. With some initial demonstrations of prototype BlackBerry 10 phones to carriers and media over the past few weeks, we are starting to see some reports on this aspect.

So what’s in the QNX technology? True multi-tasking, a very robust operating system with multi-processor, multi-threading support. These initial reports are pointing out how this technology is reflected in the user experience.

Personally I have spent over two decades selling multi-tasking, starting with an instrumentation mini-computer that allowed scientists to process data while acquiring new data. Productivity of the labs using this equipment doubled;processes within the labs changed. Later I was involved in selling personal computers with multi-tasking under the old DOS operating system and then selling the multi-tasking software itself. They both took advantage of the virtual machine feature of Intel’s 386, 486, Pentium and later processors. Windows did not really offer multi-tasking until the launch of Windows 95 in 1995; and it took until Windows 7, introduced in 2007, to see an operating system that had a reasonable degree of robustness. The notorious and legendary blue screen of death has not been a feature of Windows 7.  Smartphones are still somewhat performance and resource challenged when it comes to dealing with several “open” applications.

When RIM announced the acquisition of QNX, I immediately felt they had captured an opportunity to take full advantage of multi-tasking using an operating system that had proven robust enough to operate nuclear power plants, take over as the primary firmware in Cisco routers and operate in automobiles. These are applications requiring a user friendly user interface  with no downtime. I could foresee the potential to end delays on current generation mobile devices caused by winding hourglasses and switching applications. Unfortunately execution of implementation of QNX led to other issues that are now being addressed appropriately by RIM’s new management team.

But now we are starting to get a glimpse of BlackBerry 10’s potential performance. Certainly my experience with the BlackBerry PlayBook has demonstrated that potential performance level. Application switching involves a gesture stroke and a tap to return to an open application exactly where you left off. Launching an application is a fast process; returning to an application does not require you to wait for it to relaunch from scratch. You have the option to let applications run in background while working with a foreground application. They have also taken advantage of this technology to deliver one of the fastest HTML5-supported web browsers on a tablet and smartphone.

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One of my comparative tests is to use a sports application on iPad and then access the same information via the PlayBook browser. Fundamentally it’s much easier to keep current with changing PGA Tour golf scores on the final day of an event where almost every tournament this year ends with a tie or a one- or two-stroke difference as the leaders get closer to the 18th hole. Same for the currently running U.S. Open for tennis.

But this report from the CrackBerry.com team, Many hands on BlackBerry 10 Phones: Ten things we’re looking forward to so far, confirms that RIM is leveraging QNX features to generate a new “flow” user experience that removes many of the time eating delays on current smartphones when carrying on key communications related activities:

In BlackBerry 10, RIM has created a user experience that is truly unique. And it’s not just unique. It’s better. Wayyy better. Taking advantage of the multi-tasking power of the QNX-based software and the high performance hardware under the hood, BlackBerry 10 delivers an “always in” app experience that is faster and so much more compelling than the “open and close” experience which is standard today on other mobile platforms.

There’s a big difference between seeing the flow demonstrated and actually putting it to use. Once you start to experience the seconds saved during every interaction with the phone, going back to any other mobile UI feels almost painful by comparison. It only takes a moment to learn the touchscreen gestures that pull the flow experience together. And that’s ok. As we’ve said before, RIM isn’t trying to out-Apple Apple here in the simplicity department. Rather, they are addressing the needs of BlackBerry People – people who want to get things done while on the go. And it’s clear to us that a little bit of time invested upfront in learning a new user interface is well worth it in terms of the enhanced user experience it delivers.

Let us be clear here. We don’t want to scare anybody into thinking BlackBerry 10 is complicated either. It’s not. Any former or current BlackBerry user will immediately find it familiar. And any first time BlackBerry owner will be able to learn the ins and outs of the new operating system quickly. The flow rocks. PERIOD.

Read the entire post for more details on how BlackBerry 10 innovates with unified messaging, keyboard choices, optimization for one handed ease-of-use; QNX performance, simplicity and stability; and how it addresses RIM’s user profile described at the BlackBerry 10 Jam sessions. They conclude with comments about “putting the crack back in CrackBerry … in a good way”,

Bottom line: RIM’s ultimate challenge is to create a unique user experience within a mobile computing platform. This takes a combination of product management and developer visioning that leverages a unique technology to come up with such an experience that not only keeps RIM’s current customers but also attracts new users in a very competitive smartphone market space.

The supporting hygienics such as an attractive developer program and carrier channel implementation are coming along. But ultimately it’s the user experience created by RIM’s product team, not simply “Chainsaw Al” media and investor proposals built around “legacy case study” solutions, that is fundamental to BlackBerry 10’s success. RIM is essentially starting to take control of its messaging by demonstrating some initial elements of the BlackBerry 10’s feature set. They are on a path to bridging the disconnect between the innovation potential of QNX and failure of business media and investors to visualize what the technology has the potential to deliver.

As the popular rap video used to launch BlackBerry 10 Jam sessions says, “The waiting is the hardest part”.

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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