January 30th has been circled on our calendars for quite some time. It's the day that Research in Motion (now known as BlackBerry) officially pulled the curtains away from its next-gen BlackBerry OS -- aka BB 10 -- revealing all of its secrets to the world after no less than 15 months of development. Don't underestimate the importance of this move; this is just the beginning of BlackBerry's battle to remain relevant in the mobile industry. Now that BlackBerry 10 devices are ready to spend time in the public eye, what does our editorial staff think about the products -- as well as BlackBerry's future? Engadget sounds off about BlackBerry 10 after the break.
You can read my review of the Z10 and of the BlackBerry 10 OS if you want my full take on things, but in a nutshell it boils down to this being what would have been an amazing product last year. Thorsten obviously didn't have a choice but to delay the launch and that's unfortunate, because RIM's -- sorry -- BlackBerry's product now looks less compelling than it would have in early 2012. As of now, nothing really jumps out at you and screams "This is so amazing I need to drop my iPhone right now and get one of these."
Will the Z10 and BB 10 keep the BlackBerry faithful happy for another few years? Absolutely. BB 10 is a huge step forward over what's come before, yet it maintains the focus on productivity. I'm a big fan of that. And, I think some folks who regretfully moved over to iOS and Android will come back. But, there's not enough meat here, there's no single killer feature that will drive a full-scale flock of people to BB 10 and rocket it into a solid third position in the mobile OS race. I think that's what a lot of people, myself included, were hoping we might see today.
The problem, for me at least, was that while Heins and Co. were celebrating the operating system's many innovations, things like built-in video calling are old news. As such, BB 10 is an attempt to drag the company kicking and screaming into being on level terms with iOS and Android -- not to better them. While the show was enough to drum up some mild curiosity in the platform, I'm not sure that mild curiosity has ever been enough to open people's wallets on the scale the company currently needs.
You'd expect me to be one of BlackBerry 10's bigger champions, as I not only live in Canada, but in Ottawa -- where BlackBerry has a key office, and QNX got its roots. To some extent, I am. I want the platform to show that Canada can keep up with the competition. BlackBerry 10 may also be the best hope, in the short term, of avoiding an Android / iOS duopoly. Windows Phone appears to be building support, but it's not as big as BlackBerry or as beloved in the public eye.
I won't give my native land's company a free pass, however, and the initial results are mixed. There's some definite cleverness to BlackBerry 10 that could make it the go-to choice, especially for those who live and die by their messaging. Yet it's hard to get completely excited when the Z10 amounts to a strictly mid-range smartphone, and there are still gaping holes in the app ecosystem. Mapping, to me, could be the software's Achilles' heel: when Apple got flak for the subpar accuracy and missing features of iOS 6's Maps tool, releasing a BlackBerry app with even fewer features won't get customers to hop aboard if they at all value navigation.
The best chance for the BlackBerry might be the Q10. It's a rare instance of giving a portrait QWERTY smartphone the true spotlight, rather than treating it as a budget or niche model -- witness how quickly Android parallels like the Droid Pro or Replenish were shunted aside. The Q10 both caters to an underserved audience and, really, represents the BlackBerry's home turf. If the company can deliver a truly standout experience to keyboard lovers, it may corner a market that has been sorely lacking.
I'm an admitted BlackBerry enthusiast -- and until quite recently, apologist -- amongst Engadget editors. I've done my level best to keep a calm eye on all the news leading up to the event today without spoiling the punch line for myself by forming an opinion. But now that the deed is done and the Z10 and Q10 (almost) launched, I find myself mostly excited about the prospect of this BB 10 OS becoming a real alternative to iOS, Windows Phone and Android. Mostly. I also worry that the devices and OS will become lost in endless discussion about what might have been or why not sooner? BlackBerry pretty much nailed the devices and OS. Sure there is always room for improvement, but as a stepping stone, it did extremely well. Top-shelf first hardware offering? Check. App developers on board? Sizeable check.
BlackBerry's newest helps it get caught up with other players in this space, not leap ahead. Though a massive leap ahead was likely never even a dream and would have taken a minor miracle to achieve. But now that it's set to move forward in lockstep with the competition all that can be hoped is to keep existing customers and maybe even win some back with BB 10. I for one am looking forward to seeing BlackBerry compete with models and pricing, launch new sets and even drop trivial OS updates. As a consumer, the width of the market you shop in just got bigger and arguably better and that's a huge win.
The biggest question I had going into today's event was: "Will it be too little, too late?" Perhaps Heins borrowed some of that reality distortion field from Jobs, but I came away with a much more optimistic stance than I initially had. The Z10 looks to be much better than BlackBerry's past full-touchscreen efforts, and the Q10 is a clever nod toward current loyalists who still hunger for that physical keyboard. What's particularly encouraging is that revamped OS -- the on-screen keyboard looks excellent, the gestures strike me as a refreshing take on phone navigation and the overall feel of the UI is about 10 times better than what was there previously. Of course, there are still hurdles -- terrible maps, poor app selection and a rather disappointing camera -- but I still have to stand back and applaud what the BlackBerry team has done here and hope this means better things to come. Now, whether it'll match up to the Androids and iPhones of the world or fall into obscurity much like Palm did, well, we'll just have to wait and see.
While I want to be excited about BlackBerry 10, I'm still somewhat on the fence. The company formerly known as RIM is definitely making steps in the right direction, but I've yet to see any functionality from the BB 10 operating system that really outperforms its competition. Also, if you factor in the platform's light list of launch apps, BlackBerry 10 becomes an even tougher sell. However, given the company's long-standing history, I'd say it's still too early to label BB 10 the next webOS.
Overall I'd say that BlackBerry's hardware appears to be the most promising change in the company's resurgence. While critics have pushed for modernization, it's good to see the company hasn't completely abandoned what brought it to the dance in the first place. For the longest time, I've felt that premium smartphones with physical keyboards were a dying breed, however with devices like the BlackBerry Q10 on the horizon, hopefully this won't be the case.
There's no doubt that BlackBerry has an uphill battle ahead of it, but it's just too hard to judge a platform by its first wave of devices. I'll say that we'll truly know what the future holds for BB 10 somewhere around the 10- to 12-month mark. Hopefully, for BlackBerry's sake, said timespan will see an abundance of new hardware introduced and a major influx of developer support. If not, BlackBerry 10 could very well be operating on borrowed time.
It's not quite fourth and long yet for the now RIM-less Blackberry, but the Canadian outfit has got maybe one more punt before it could find itself thoroughly out of its league -- or perhaps playing for another country. As such, it needs to at least have hit a triple here, to thoroughly mix this lame sports metaphor -- so, has it done that?
For sure, the company was trying to play to its business-oriented fans with the promise of a more buttoned-down BYOD experience. As such, it stressed the productivity aspect of the new OS, with features like front-and-center notifications, a fresh keyboard on the touch-only Z10 (aimed at those who hate touch keyboards) and actual physical keys for the Q10. That's smart, because white-collar fans of the aging OS who've switched to more whizzy Android or iOS devices may still miss the workmanlike aspect of previous models.
At the same time, it was trying to bring a new message to those who made the switch because BlackBerry had become, well, boring, and therein lies the rub. By announcing all manner of games, readers, players and social apps, they'd like to convey that you can have a heap of BYOD icing on your workaday smartphone cake. That bordered on desperation at times, like when it trotted out Alicia Keys as the new "Global Creative Director," a ceremonial position if ever there was one. But if the new phones and OS handle your daily diversions nearly as well as other devices, could it actually grab back some of the market share the company needs, especially from those who "found someone else at the gym," as Keys put it? Unfortunately, part of every buying experience is lust, and the new OS and devices seem to lack that certain "something something" -- and it seems doubtful that middle managers could make up the lost sales it needs so badly.
There was certainly no doubt about how crucial today's BlackBerry 10 event would be for RIM (aka BlackBerry), with some even going as far as calling it a make-or-break juncture for the company that was once king of the handset business. BlackBerry itself, anchored by CEO Thorsten Heins, didn't fail to deliver products-wise, although it felt as if we had previously seen the majority of things being shown off on stage. Still, for consumers, the fact that there's a new choice in mobile is a marvelous element in itself, but I think BlackBerry's problem will be not that people don't fancy what it has to offer. It's how invested many of them already are in other platforms -- and yes, I'm also talking about the business sector, which is, and has always been, one of the Canadian firm's main target audiences.
That's not to say BlackBerry didn't showcase anything I took a shine to, however, as the Q10 definitely made quite an impression on me. Unfortunately, Heins let it be known that the BlackBerry Q10 won't be available until sometime in April, which, to be honest, is pretty disappointing, and it also pinpoints a problem in the company's plan to bring back, or keep, the physical QWERTY faithful. The BlackBerry Z10, on the other hand, will be making its way to consumers' hands as early as tomorrow in some places. But what could easily be considered BlackBerry's flagship didn't do much for me in general. Yes, the operating system is as novel as it gets, but the hardware, in my humble opinion, leaves very much to be desired -- especially when you take into consideration that BlackBerry had many, many months to, perhaps, introduce us to a smartphone carrying a "wow factor" of some sorts.
Alas, here's to hoping Heins and Co. find success with the recently launched products, because, if anything, you have to tip your hat to the Waterloo-based outfit for not taking the easy route and adopting something like, say, Android. Instead, something designed from the ground up was born with BlackBerry 10, and as wise man Victor Hugo once said: "We see past time in a telescope and present time in a microscope. Hence the apparent enormities of the present."
I was only paying attention for one reason: QWERTY. After all this time using touchscreens, I still grit my teeth and get impatient when tapping on anything smaller than a Note II, so I'm open to the idea of physical keyboards being reinvented. Alas, there's little evidence of that happening. By the time it reaches us, the Q10 will contain nothing that -- technically at least -- couldn't have been released 12 months earlier. Fair enough, the handset seems nicely built along the lines of the Bold 9930, and it's also possible that the new OS might exert some slow-burn attraction. But April is a long way away, and didn't I just say that I'm prone to impatience? Sorry BlackBerry, but this is one slow ballad in A minor.
There's little question RIM, er, BlackBerry, put on the best possible show it could manage earlier today. It was a bit awkward at times, a bit stilted and occasionally lacking direction, but it's tough to come out swinging without the world on your side -- and at the moment, the company's still got a lot to prove. With that in mind, Heins and Co. jam-packed the thing full of hardware and software news, partnerships, a celebrity cameo and a lot of promises about the future of the company. And, arguably most importantly, the company took time to put special focus on one of BlackBerry's historical shortcomings: apps.
Ultimately, however, Heins really hit the nail on the head when he referred to the event as the "starting line." The hard part is just starting: getting their babies in people's hands. Here in the States, that dream is a ways off, thanks in part to a March release for the first BB 10 handset. But that delay just underscored a larger theme: in spite of its NYC location, this was a global announcement. BB execs threw to simulcast locations throughout the event, and availability outside the US seemed to get a lot more love -- and it makes sense, the company's looking to get a foothold for BB 10 amongst already devoted BlackBerry owners. As much pomp and circumstance as the company opts to employ at events like this, the success of BB 10 will live and die with the enthusiasm of its fans.
So the cat's finally out of the bag, eh? After years of BlackBerry twiddling its thumbs I'd pretty much given up and written them off. Then, last November, something strange happened: Tim and I met with Thorsten Heins for an interview and spent some time with both the Z10 and the Q10. While we only saw a glimpse of BB10, I came away less jaded and even somewhat excited about the company's future. Fast forward to now, and it looks like BlackBerry finally brings a competitive OS to the table, but is that enough? I'd hoped my experience in November was just the tip of the iceberg, that I'd be wowed by something delightful and unexpected at launch, yet that never came to be.
What we have with BB10, then, is a me-too OS lacking an ecosystem and key apps -- like Windows Phone but with zero market share. I'll give the company some credit for getting more significant apps lined up at launch than Microsoft and I'll reserve final judgment until BlackBerry sends me a demo handset. As for the hardware, the Z10 checks all the important boxes in terms of specs, and wraps it all up in a pleasant, inoffensive design -- I'd even call the white one handsome. The Q10, however, is not my bag. Sure, that QWERTY keyboard is nothing short of phenomenal, but do you really want to use a touch- and gesture-heavy OS on a 3.1-inch screen?