In the previous post in this series I provided some background behind explaining why I feel BlackBerry 10 will have a successful launch. In this post it’s time to get to the heart of the issue. (Also refer to the video of the BlackBerry 10 demonstration that I received at the recent CES 2013.)
One other background point: I started selling multi-tasking on instrumentation mini-computers in 1980; instantly customers of these $100K to $500K instruments doubled their throughput as they could analyze previously collected data while gathering new data. In my career selling PC hardware and software, multitasking on DOS-based PC’s were a key contributor to my success. Two awards for having the top selling PC utility software in the Canadian market sit in my office.
As a result an instinctive sense of what to expect from multi-tasking performance as an end user is in my blood. When I acquired a Playbook a year ago (and got it updated to the OS 2.x firmware) it was quickly obvious that this was a true multitasking tablet. Messages are always current; the browser is the fastest of all tablets and switching between running applications is instant. It starts to give a feel for what a QNX-based mobile device can be. It has become my default mobile device. (And, to my surprise, several of my acquaintances have acquired them and are quite happy with their ability to meet their mobile computing needs.)
BlackBerry 10 has no “Home” button. Just as importantly, it can readily be operated using one hand. Flick a thumb or finger up/down or left/right for initiating any action. Gesturing and touch are the primary “pointing” or “launch” actions for driving a BlackBerry 10. Occasionally I’ll forget on my other touch devices and wonder why a simple swipe does not open up the display.
True multi-tasking contributes to two main features:
There is no messaging application. In its place BlackBerry Hub is an “always on” feature that essentially manages all messaging activity in background whether email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or phone calls; in addition it manages calendar and scheduling activity in real time. Any time you need to access BlackBerry Hub simply flick a finger up and to the right and it’s there. You can “Peak” to see if a message requires action and quickly return to your active application (or any other application). BlackBerry Hub is the logical extension of RIM’s foundation of building innovative and revolutionary communications devices.
BlackBerry Flow allows you to readily access any open application and switch between open applications without any hesitation. No pregnant pauses while waiting for any active application to effectively open up every time you want to access it.
As seen in the demonstration, one word defines the browser – “fast”, like really “fast”. No more “requesting” (unless a website itself is slow in loading). Always the last to load when accessing the Voice On The Web home page, the BlackBerry 10 browser brings up the slider at the top of Voice On The Web’s home page almost instantly. The “Reader” mode, seen in the demonstration, is a bonus feature that makes websites more readable. HTML 5 tests are one confirmation as one of BlackBerry 10’s having the fastest smartphone browsers.
While there will be a model with a hardware keyboard, RIM has been innovative in coming up with a unique touch keyboard that allows you to compose, say, a 100 character sentence or phrase in as few as 20 keystrokes (my own experience in checking this out). It not only provides a predictive text display but as you start a word it suggests a variety of words above several keys that can be entered simply by an upward flick of the finger. A simple gesture of swiping down on the keyboard switches to the numbers/symbols keyboard. And it has a Caps Lock capability.
The combination of all the features above essentially nit-picks away at all the little things that delay or hold up your smartphone activity. They create a unique user experience with no spinning hourglass or hesitation. A feeling for this experience can be obtained when using the BlackBerry Playbook with its multi-tasking capability and Messages application. As mentioned previously, it has become my default device for email and browsing (I do have an iPhone 5 and Android tablet to get a comparison).
RIM’s primary challenge for breaking back into the market in a significant way was to build a unique user experience. They appear to have addressed that challenge. All that’s needed is final end user experience and feedback in the open market as final confirmation.
Over the past 18 months Alec Saunders, whom I first met as a competitor two decades ago and followed as he later built a start-up communications application, has built up both a proactive developer relations program and enthusiastic developer relations team with the announced goal of having 70,000 applications at launch. The primary SDK’s went “Gold” in mid-December allowing developers to make final checks on their prototype devices. Over the past two weekends over 40,000 applications were submitted via two port-a-thons. In addition we know there were at least 25,000 BlackBerry Playbook applications that readily port with a minimum of effort.
Why could so many apps be built in such a short period? Basically because Alec’s team has worked to ensure that the appropriate developer tools are readily available. They also provided over 35 BlackBerry Jam sessions worldwide to educate developers about the tools and app store while providing them with prototype devices for testing their applications.
Porting the Android version of PamFax took less than half an hour; not only is it available on Playbook but its also is approved for BlackBerry 10. During last weekend’s port-a-thon, to test out the experience I submitted a Voice On The Web application via the App Generator. Within 15 minutes I had built the app and submitted my App Developer application. While this is a simple app, it gave me a brief exposure to what developers encounter in the process.
Update: today the Globe and Mail summarizes it very succinctly in “How RIM is trying to win the app war“
Enter Alec Saunders. RIM’s fresh-faced, entrepreneurial vice-president of developer relations, arrived in September, 2011, and immediately set on expanding the company’s efforts to woo app makers over to RIM’s platform. Mr. Saunders’ team targeted 17 countries that represented the bulk of developers around the world. He began hiring developer outreach people in many of these markets, particularly Southeast Asia, Europe and Latin America. He expanded his team from 37 people to about 140 today, and traveled the world holding developer conferences. In early October he had accrued the 100,000 flight miles necessary for Air Canada’s Super Elite status; by the first week of December, he had 170,000 miles.
One final important point: One aggravation of the legacy BlackBerry App World has been the effort required to download and install applications, often including a time consuming reboot. With the PlayBook, this process s a breeze and no reboot is required; it usually takes less than a minute. BlackBerry App World has been rebranded as BlackBerry World and has now become one of the easiest app stores to work with. From the developer side, their applications can be sold on BlackBerry World not only via PayPal but also using a credit card or carrier billing.
While RIM has 79 million active BlackBerry users, it’s the 60 million on BlackBerry Messenger who are key as BBM provides more bonding to a BlackBerry application across a user’s social network. Through Twitter (@BlackBerry, #BB10, @asaunders, @filos) and and blog posts one gets the strong sense of customer loyalty. Recent media articles attempting to downplay the BlackBerry brand have generated significant numbers of comments supporting Blackberry. Many are holding back on new smartphones purchases until BlackBerry 10 is available. Carrier reservations, discussed below, are providing confirmation.
RIM’s primary distribution channel comprises over 600 carrier relationships worldwide for its legacy product line. Over 150 have been reported as evaluating BlackBerry 10. Rogers, Bell Canada, Telus have been taking reservations for several weeks; CrackBerry.com reports “Canadian carriers have already had to increase their pre-order volume because they’ve sold out.”
AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have reported they will be carrying BlackBerry 10; we are also starting to see some reports out of European carriers. Bottom line is that the carrier business relationships and agreements are already in place for adding new product.
Carriers are looking for a third platform to add to their Apple and Android offerings. Carriers are obviously impressed with its performance. The key point is that RIM can continue to leverage these legacy relationships for a rapid worldwide launch and the carriers are responding positively.
Three key points:
RIM has been working with many of their enterprise customers to evaluate new enterprise services such as BlackBerry 10 Enterprise Server 10, incorporating BlackBerry Fusion. Replacing the legacy BlackBerry Enterprise Server with support for BlackBerry 10, it also takes over BlackBerry Mobile Fusion which provides a path for managing, across the enterprise, not only BlackBerry devices but also Apple and Android devices in this BYOD world.
BlackBerry Balance is another differentiating feature that allows users to work with both “Personal” and “Work” profiles. The latter is under corporate or enterprise control and provides access to enterprise supported applications along with the appropriate security. On the Personal side users can build their own BlackBerry 10 ecosystem with applications they want to use, including Facebook and Twitter. Switching between profiles occurs simply by a downward gesture and selecting the profile’s tab. RIM has built in the deep level security required to keep each of these profiles fully isolated.
Finally BlackBerry 10 received FIPS security certification prior to its official release. This maintains RIM’s unique position with respect to selling into government security agencies worldwide.
At the RIM AGM a couple of years ago the then-executives were asked by a shareholder why RIM could not create the level of hype associated with an Apple product launch (at the time involving the late Steve Jobs).
Following a rather stormy annual general meeting last July, new RIM CEO Thorsten Heins and his public relations team commenced a proactive program to take control of the RIM and BlackBerry message that was getting out to the press. Eight months later reporters, analysts and social media are recognizing that RIM is focused on a well-defined strategy for launching BlackBerry 10 leading into new mobile computing experiences. No more reports about considering alternative operating systems, business models or other attempts to reorganize RIM based only on its legacy assets. RIM is a unique business case study; there is no precedence in the technology marketplace.
It has been an uphill battle focused on positioning BlackBerry 10 as a significantly differentiated smartphone that would create a new user experience. Today there is not a technology writer or publication who is not at least aware of the pending BlackBerry 10 launch; many have had the opportunity of a preview demonstration. And at a time when no other major smartphone announcements are anticipated, RIM should have the full attention of the business and technology media worldwide for its launch events in Toronto, New York, London and three other cities worldwide.
BlackBerry 10 will have the equivalent, if not more, exposure to any Apple launch event. Given the level of detail RIM has gone into to build the appropriate infrastructure, distribution channels and applications ecosystem, only the final details of the device itself need to be released, along with a device release schedule.
The launch event is being followed up by BlackBerry Experience Forums in 14 cities worldwide during February and March.
Congratulations are due to the entire RIM team for turning RIM into a world class mobile computing company. Regardless of the outcome, this will become a textbook case study for a turn around in the technology industry.
Bottom line: The infrastructure is coming together; however, there remain questions that will be answered at the launch event. The final post in this series will cover some of the pending questions:
Full disclosure: the author has a small holding of RIM shares. But he also has iOS and Android devices in order to experience a cross section of the smartphone and tablet market. These observations are based on publicly available information combined with his own past business experience at senior management levels in high technology markets. His main interest is in seeing several thousand jobs maintained in not only the Canadian economy but also in RIM organizations around the world.
Given that RIM stock has been on a tear for the past few days since I started drafting this series I can only say check with your investment advisor before taking any action. These posts are for information purposes only.