Blackberry’s New Found Agility?

During most of 2011 and 2012 the Financial Aanlysts mark against RIM and its Blackberry phones and software was slowness in responding to changes in the market. The Playbook tablet update took 6-8 months to respond to the iPad onrush and fell far short. The smartphones were being hobbled by the update to the BB10 OS which was terribly late. And the Bold and Curve smartphones were no match for iPhone 4S and then 5 let alone the Samsung Galaxy and Note juggernauts. Here is a glimpse of the  Engadget review of the Curve from January 2012.

This is not quite a mercy killing – but read the review for yourself and decide.

Clearly RIM and its Blackberry line-up, despite the move to QNX for OS support and the strong RIM backend server supports system, was hemorrhaging market share in smartphones. The following chart shows how badly:

Lots of Gyrations but Android up at Nokia Symbian and RIM Blackberry expense

The chart shows a peak of 20% in 2009Q3 to 4.5% in 2012Q4. So Blackberry needed a turnaround  with the introduction of its Z10 smartphone  with BB10 operating systems.  And throughout 2012, many mobile pundits waited for better from Blackberry and fretted at the delays – especially RIM missing the Christmas 2012 most lucrative sales quarter.

RIM Turnaround in BB10

But the intro of Z10 and BB10 in January was undisguised surprise for the smartphone community.  The following remarks from archrival Android Authority catches  the flavor of the turnaround:

To set the expectations from the get go, know that the Z10 and BlackBerry 10 are not, by any means, groundbreaking, at least not for a seasoned Android user. What they are is a very promising start for a brand new platform. In other words, BlackBerry may not be out of the woods yet, but no one can blame them for not putting up a good fight…

We Android users are spoiled with the very best specifications available on any mobile platform. Top of the line Android smartphones like the Galaxy S4 or the HTC One push the boundaries of mobile technology, effectively ruining the appeal of “normal” devices. And the BlackBerry Z10 is precisely that – a normal device, with components that would qualify as mid-range to Android specs junkies, which should, nevertheless, prove perfectly adequate to the vast majority of customers.

The specs on the Z10 are actually pretty similar to those of the US-bound Samsung Galaxy S3, the most popular Android device to date. The two phones share a similar processor and the same amount of RAM. The Z10 is powerful enough to zip through most tasks, with one, glaring exception – boot up time is rather slow. Luckily, after the phone comes to life, lag is almost nonexistent.

Which brings us to the software department, likely to bring the biggest shock to new users and the old faithful alike. The new BB10 operating system is completely new and unlike anything you’ve seen before, from BlackBerry or other mobile platforms. For one thing, its user interface is based mostly on swipes. There is no reassuring home button, and in fact, there are not many buttons at all. For someone used with Android’s UI, the change can be refreshing, but also a bit confusing….

To access your active apps, you swipe up from the bottom of the app you are currently running. This reveals a list of up to eight active apps, whose thumbnails are updated in real time. In a way, this turns the apps into a kind of widgets, which can potentially be very useful. To reach the Hub, BB10’s unified messaging service, you swipe up and then right. Notifications from all your messaging apps are available there at a glance, and the Hub can be accessed from any part of the OS.

The Hub is one of the highlights of BB10, with another one being the predictive keyboard. Unsurprisingly, BlackBerry worked hard to provide a worthy digital alternative to the iconic Qwerty keyboard that so many users still swear by. The effort seems to have paid off, as we found the typing experience on the Z10 to be excellent.

One of the biggest challenges of starting a new mobile platform is creating a healthy app ecosystem. While BlackBerry succeeded at attracting many developers to its new operating system, and gave it a shot in the arm by supporting ported Android apps…

To draw the line, the Z10 is a refreshing, modern, and capable take at what a smartphone should be in 2013. It may not have the breadth of features of Android, or its flexibility, but, once you get used to it, it lets you get things done quickly and efficiently.

The deliverance for BlackBerry may not lie in the Z10, but the phone and the operating system that powers it are certainly a leap in the right direction

This review catches the general tenor of the reviews among theVerge, Engadget, TechCrunch and other mobile observers. The consensus was that Z10 and its BB10 OS were very good but as noted above, one generation behind the best, the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One for hardware features. Priced at $99 for new customers at Verizon, the Z10 is selling above analysts expectations.

Software Agility?

One of the chief complaints against Blackberry was the pokey pace that the RIM OS software and its upgrades were appearing.  Has BB10 OS broken out of this mold? The latest update leak appears to say yes with a major 10.1 upgrade with over a dozen new features coming in less than 4 months from the first release. Now some argue that this is just residue of features that did not make the original release. So they are from Missouri and are asking for 2-3 more timely upgrades before they concede that new CEO Thorsten Heins has managed to turn the companies software agility around.

But the indicators for greater agility are strong. BB10’s new UI and well-praised Hub interface has been a winner without major complaints of software bugs to date. Even more telling is that the BB10 browser which was mid-ranked has gone to the head of the class in HTML5 implementation:
BB10 mobile browser goes way to the head of the class in HTML5Test

Contrast this with the position of Windows Phone 8 browser and its leisurely upgrade  pace – “sometime this year” with the major Blue upgrade for 2014. Microsoft clearly has agility problems in the client OS marketplace. If Blackberry can maintain an Android or better upgrade pace, they may very well secure 3rd spot in the mobile space.

And RIM’s software agility will surely get tested if the plans to offer 3 more BB10 devices before the end of the year bear fruit. Because the new devices have new form factors they will challenge  the BB10 software developers in delivering requisite APIs in a timely fashion. Finally, the BB10 developer community has a rich set of tools to reach BB10 OS including Cascades [an Eclipse based Studio developer], Abobe Air, the powerful QT environ plus cross platform enablers for Android, iOS, and earlier Blackberry OS apps to BB10. Indeed with first out the door NFC, HUB+BBM integration, strong HTML5, split single device security spaces and plus true multi-tasking – RIM has given its developers strong tools for offering unique and innovative apps.


So far the turnaround at Blackberry has been as much software lead as hardware. The agility of the RIM  software development team appears to be solid. But clearly the next year ahead will be the test of whether or not Blackberry’s software agility can win the day in the intensely competitive mobile marketplace.

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