BlackBerry 2014: Reaching Out in New Directions

BBPassport.TheHubOnce more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with smartphone innovation.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a mobile
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the hardware keyboard;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up innovative formats,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d communications process enhancements

with apologies to William Shakespeare (and my grade 12 English teacher)

Today marks the launch of an ambitious series of BlackBerry product launches during the 2014 fall season:

  • BlackBerry Passport – new dimensions in smartphone ergonomics
  • BlackBerry Blend – taking BlackBerry email, BBM and other activities cross-platform
  • BlackBerry Classic – restoring the true legacy BlackBerry hardware keyboard user interface
  • BES 12 – managing business or enterprise communications securely across multiple platforms: legacy BlackBerry, BlackBerry 10, iOS, Android and Windows Phone

But let’s go back a step. Over the past few months, including a 24 day trip to seven European countries, I would ask anyone I saw with a legacy BlackBerry  or BlackBerry Q10 what their experience was and why they were still using BlackBerry. The answers boiled down to two reasons:

  • hardware keyboard – they just could not envision working with a touch keyboard
  • it’s a true communications platform – viewed as far superior for productive business communications activities.

One more recall: a year ago the post BlackBerry: A Smartphone Manifesto envisioned a world where we simply carry around a core smartphone with a handheld form factor but as we move about:

  • connect to any display panel via either HDMI or a DLNA certified device
    • ranging in size from Playbook’s 7 inch screen to 100 inch meeting room displays
    • available in your home, automobile, Internet cafés, libraries and business friendly locations
  • connect to a keyboard via Bluetooth or use the smartphone’s physical keyboard
  • connect to the Internet via WiFi or whatever high speed carrier technology is available
  • access printers remotely at the end point where paper documents are required

This provides some background for the initial discussion of today’s announcements combining new directions in smartphone ergonomics with one form of implementation of that vision. BlackBerry’s theme for today’s introduction is “See the Bigger Picture” but it’s about a lot more than physical device size.

BlackBerry Passport

Passport.front.backOffering a completely different format and keyboard, BlackBerry Passport also brings along the horsepower to serve as the core element of a complete personal computing system:

  • An innovative super high resolution 4.5” square display with 1440 x 1440 full HD resolution packed in at 453 dpi.
  • An innovative hybrid touch and hardware keyboard with three rows for alpha characters and a touch screen for numbers and symbols. But here’s the rub (pun intended): the keyboard also serves as a touchpad, bringing back the fine cursor control of legacy BlackBerry 9000 series devices.
  • 3GB RAM and 32GB flash memory with an SD card slot
  • a 13Megapixel rear camera with Optical Image Stabilization
  • a 3450 mAh battery – the largest of any smartphone
  • a higher quality audio experience

Passport.Specs

Its 5” x 3.5” size duplicates that of today’s high security passports; thus the name. And if your citizenship Passport fits into your shirt pocket so does the BlackBerry Passport.

In addition to the “swipe cursor control” overlaying the keyboard to emulate a touch pad it also incorporates the “flick-to-type” predictive text feature of the touch screen BlackBerry 10 devices (Z10 and Z30). Touch the “123” softkey and you get a touch version of a standard PC keyboard Number Pad.

On the applications side, start with the Hub, BlackBerry 10’s message management that allows you to receive and send messages across email and social networking platforms without the need to open the individual applications. Other features include:

  • BlackBerry 10 OS 10.3
  • BlackBerry Assistant, providing access to work-related information: dictate a corporate email message or setup a calendar appointment. Interacts with voice, or, in a noisy environment, the keyboard or handsfree on a Bluetooth connection to a car audio.
  • Amazon App Store in addition to BlackBerry World accessing over 200,000 applications running in an upgraded Android player.

That’s just an introduction to the BlackBerry Passport. I had a brief experience with one two weeks ago but one really needs to use it for a few days to do a more complete review.

Now onto a new communications paradigm.

BlackBerry Blend

Here’s where we get into the world of using your BlackBerry as the core of a world where we also have tablets and PC’s. BlackBerry Blend uses your BlackBerry 10 device as a communication server that provides access to your BlackBerry applications from any of the other devices.

On my recent European trip I only used my BlackBerry Z30 and my iPad Air. I came home with the feeling that there are times when It would have been more convenient to have access to the larger display and/or the larger Logitech Ultrathin keyboard to send, say, BBM messages or view websites. And handling email or social networking messages on the iPad is, frankly, a pain requiring access to each of the individual applications. BlackBerry Blend surmounts those barriers.

And one of my frustrations with using BBM is the fact it does not support working on multiple platforms. Set up BBM and you’re stuck with using it on one single device.

BBBlend.WorldHasChanged

BlackBerry Blend seamlessly brings messaging and content from your BlackBerry smartphone to your PC or tablet. Designed for both power professionals but including security management for IT managers, BlackBerry Blend works across USB, WiFi and cellular connections. Install BlackBerry Blend on your iPad and connect to your BlackBerry that you left at the office or hotel room. The user interface says it all.

BlackBerryBlend.dashboard

While BlackBerry Passport uses BlackBerry 10 OS 10.3, current BlackBerry 10 owners will have access to BlackBerry 10.3.1 in a few weeks along with BlackBerry Blend.

Did BlackBerry just justify my recent purchase of an iPad Air? And it’s a great replacement for Playbook without all the overhead involved with supporting operating systems and hardware while achieving the goal of viewing BlackBerry 10 device content on a larger display (and accessing the relevant keyboards). BlackBerry Blend is an initial implementation of the mobile word envisioned in The BlackBerry Manifesto: access and use content on one core mobile device but on multiple hardware platforms.

One has to have the BlackBerry device at the same location for the initial association between the BlackBerry 10 device and the tablet/PC. Otherwise only an appropriate internet connection is required even if the two devices become geographically separated.

The Challenge

With its focus on the enterprise (and specifically regulated enterprise), BlackBerry has taken major steps to address productivity and security issues in today’s “always connected” world. But one has to remember that we also have a personal side and want to use applications that enhance our personal experiences, whether finance, travel, entertainment, sports or whatever.

These new offerings are definitely targeted at the enterprise audience but it’s going to become even more difficult to differentiate our business lives from our personal lives. Life with a BlackBerry 10 device and an iPad, Android tablet or PC delivers more productive communications while accessing the range of applications available across all these devices.

The challenge now for BlackBerry is to get the message out to appropriate target audiences with the hope that it will diffuse to a broader public. And to execute soon on BlackBerry Classic and BES 12.

About Jim Courtney

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

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