BlackBerry: A Smartphone Manifesto

PlayBook.HomeScreen.051013To tablet, or not to tablet, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Competition,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Tablet-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream;

With apologies to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Yesterday BlackBerry CEO, Thorsten Heins, in an interview on Bloomberg, mentioned that he felt tablets would be passé in five years. He also mentioned that the only platform you will need will be your smartphone. Of course it has generated controversy across the Internet with posts ranging from how that concept could lead to BlackBerry’s demise, given the potential sales volumes, to how BlackBerry is focusing on making visionary market leading business decisions built around their unique mobile platform technology. He has hinted previously that he would need to see a unique business case for any new tablet device.

“I want to gain as much market share as I can, but not by being a copycat.”, Thorsten Heins

Yet he dreams of a smartphone-centric mobile computing world. Quoting from the Bloomberg article linked above:

Heins said in a January interview he’ll only consider a PlayBook successor if it can be profitable. He reiterated yesterday that a BlackBerry tablet has to offer a unique proposition in a crowded market.

“In five years, I see BlackBerry to be the absolute leader in mobile computing — that’s what we’re aiming for,” Heins said. “I want to gain as much market share as I can, but not by being a copycat.”

BB10.SliderFor the past ten weeks I have been using the BlackBerry Z10 and come to appreciate both its power and its potential. “Did I say it was fast?”. That’s actually been the most challenging aspect of using the device – getting accustomed to how fast gesturing, predictive text and the Hub, amongst other features, contribute to a very smooth operation in a real world environment.

But not only do I not waste time waiting for applications to re-open or for spinning clocks, it has become apparent, through using it in practice for many applications, how powerful a device BlackBerry 10, running on the QNX/BB10 OS can become. A few examples:

  • hooked it up to my TV panel to watch Argo
    • downloaded from BlackBerry World
    • just prior to winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards
  • made a Power Point presentation using it as a controller for my PlayBook hooked up to a display projector
  • show friends pictures from our Costa Rica trip on the TV panel
  • access all my messaging through the Hub,
    • which is continuously running in background
    • includes Twitter, SMS, Facebook and LinkedIn
    • also easily access upcoming Calendar events
  • followed the NHL and Major League Baseball activity as games progressed
    • also use it as a reference source for game summaries, standings and replays
    • watched portions of a few games, including while away from a WiFi environment
  • Hands-free calling from my car via Bluetooth connection
  • Follow Twitter on a unique and powerful application
  • used BlackBerry Messenger’s video for a virtual hospital visit that saved the need for family members to drive about 50 km through rush hour traffic
  • access all my pictures via DropBox
  • pull up all my critical documents via DropBox or SkyDrive
  • browse to many “applications” via their mobile websites (post to follow)
  • send and receive faxes (via PamFax) with no phone line or other hardware
  • viewed and edited Office documents: spreadsheets, presentations and text documents
  • managed WordPress activity
  • listen to music services and/or radio stations worldwide
  • read newspapers online
  • and the list goes on….

I have also had years of experience working with various form factors for intelligent devices, ranging from SlingBox to PBX’s and routers. Physically they can be almost handheld size yet deliver on intelligent performance. I have experienced tablets from Apple, Samsung and BlackBerry.

Over the past couple of weeks I came to realize how powerful a QNX-based device with a smartphone form factor could be. It has the potential to become a full computing platform.

“Typical explanations of the cloud focus on the technologies that deliver cloud computing, such as server virtualisation. These are accurate descriptions of the machinery, but are inadequate as a means of understanding the impact of the cloud. It is rather like attempting to understand the automotive revolution by considering the properties of asphalt and oil.”

Martin Geddes

Take a look at the trends:

  • the rise of cloud-based computing:
  • WiFi everywhere as the stealth carrier
  • more powerful mobile processors such as the quad core Snap Dragon processors
    • demonstrated at the 2013 CES keynote
    • including how they can support the most intensive game applications
  • QNX’s inherent support for secure, scalable and robust multitasking and multi-processing
  • hardware and software support for 1080p video and beyond
  • the evolution of IP-based communications,
  • use of NFC protocol to enable payments
  • new, open system, developer tools such as HTML5 that simplify application development
    • while improving overall performance
  • the evolution of the M2M (machine to machine) “Internet of things”

I can envision a world where we simply carry around a 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

Bottom line: What runs through the back of my mind as my BlackBerry 10 experience builds is how I am carrying, in that little black “slab”, a computer that, when combined with an communications ecosystem, makes it many times more powerful than the IBM mainframes I ran for complex research and industrial applications many years ago. Add the input and output hardware appropriate to the user’s environment and needs and you have a powerful mobile computing device that becomes central to managing all your activities.

Think of mobile computing platforms as extensions to, and resources for, our overall neural functioning.

As Andy Ung at Seeking Alpha states in “BlackBerry: Understanding QNX”:

As smartphones pack stronger processors and become more powerful, the main use of mobile devices will no longer be to make phone calls. BlackBerry is envisioning a future of mobile computing, where distinguishing between computers and smartphones becomes increasingly difficult. From anywhere around the world, in the portability of your pocket, a full-blown computer will be at your access.

We look forward to BlackBerry’s announcement(s) at BlackBerry Live in two weeks: Will it be:

  • More powerful smartphones?
  • A new platform that launches BlackBerry into the M2M market?, or
  • Another unique value proposition built around smartphones and the BlackBerry 10 platform?

How will BlackBerry “take Arms against a Sea of troubles, And by opposing end them”?

Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal tablet,
Must give us pause

BlackBerry issued a statement late yesterday:

The comments that Thorsten made yesterday are in line with previous comments he has made about the future of mobile computing overall, and the possibilities that come with a platform like BlackBerry 10. We continue to evaluate our tablet strategy, but we are not making any shifts in that strategy in the short term. When we do have information about our PlayBook strategy, we will share it.

One final comment: many reports talk about PlayBook as a failed device. Yes, they may have sold 200,000 a year ago but in their most recent quarterly report they sold 370,000 units. Not an iPad killer but I find many of my acquaintances who have one could not do without. It remains my primary tablet device, largely for email, browsing on a larger display and viewing videos.

Other posts reflecting on Heins’ statement re tablets:

Full disclosure: the author has a small holding of BlackBerry 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 BlackBerry organizations around the world.

Given that RIM stock has been somewhat volatile for the past few months I can only say check with your investment advisor before taking any action. These posts are for information purposes only.

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About Jim Courtney

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

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