This is a major signifier of a real shift for the company, a renewed focus on what's important and, frankly, what's been good at RIM for the past few years. It's one of many broad, sweeping changes pushed through by Heins over the past year, clearing the path to the company's massive, global unveiling of BlackBerry 10. And, of course, some hardware to run it on. Namely: the Z10 and Q10, both of which you can read about at length in this week's issue of Distro.
It must be said: hiring someone with an iOS-exclusive app and who famously performed next to Steve Jobs at the iTunes launch is a bit of a curious choice.
A new name, a new OS and a new infusion of celebrity branding courtesy of Alicia Keys. And Neil Gaiman. And Robert Rodriguez. All three will be acting as cultural ambassadors of a sort, with Ms. Keys getting the additional blessing of an executive title: Global Creative Director. Cue the snarky questions about her day-to-day corporate responsibilities, but I'll let the Twitter pundits have fun exploring that topic.
Laugh all you like, but I think BlackBerry genuinely needs a bit of a cultural boost, and this might not be a bad way to start -- though, it must be said: hiring someone with an iOS-exclusive app and who famously performed next to Steve Jobs at the iTunes launch is a bit of a curious choice.
My full views of the phone and the OS await you, so I won't spoil too much, but suffice to say that BlackBerry has a long road ahead of it to become the smartphone powerhouse it once was. I wish the Q10 were launching at the same time as the Z10, and I wish both were launching in the US before MWC, and I wish BB10 had Netflix and Hulu and Spotify, but overall I still think this is a good step forward. I do think that most of the BlackBerry faithful will be happy with this -- happy enough to stave off the advances of iOS, Android and Windows Phone, at least.
RIM BlackBerry didn't entirely dominate the news cycle this week. Apple slipped the 128GB iPad into existence. Now $799 gets you an iPad with twice the storage capacity of the previous maximum, though if you want LTE you'll need to spring for the $939 version, which Sprint, AT&T and Verizon have all said they'll be carrying.
Apple also dropped iOS 6.1 into our laps, bringing some mostly minor tweaks, including support for more worldwide LTE carriers, the ability to buy US movie tickets through Siri and, finally, iTunes Match users can now download individual tracks rather than just entire albums or playlists.
Nokia, meanwhile, finally started pushing out Windows Phone 7.8 to its devices, a gradual rollout that's said to run through February. The company also unveiled a subscription music service called Music+. For $4 every month, you can stream and download as much music as you like to your phone -- music that will, of course, disappear should you ever stop paying that fee. A Windows Phone app is a natural, but browser playback is also supported. I personally hope they bring it to more platforms -- a little pricing competition for Spotify and Slacker wouldn't hurt.
Finally this week, we added some more amazing guests to the list of personalities we'll be featuring on-stage at our Expand event, which takes place on March 16th and 17th in San Francisco. Yancey Strickler, co-founder of Kickstarter, will be sharing some of the many, many things he's learned about crowdfunding to our own crowd. Willow Garage CEO Steve Cousins, will talk DIY, we'll discuss how the Curiosity rover got to Mars with JPL's Tom Rivellini and LiftPort's Michael Laine will talk about the very practical considerations that must be taken into account when building an elevator on the moon.
Again, in this week's Distro we look in detail at the new BlackBerry, including my full reviews of the Z10 smartphone and BB10 OS. Jon Fingas takes us on a trip through the company's history, starting with its humble beginnings and leading us up to Wednesday's reinvention. We also have Zach Honig's review of the eagerly anticipated Pebble smartwatch, a few funky highlights from our coverage at NAMM and a new IRL, too. Joshua Fruhlinger talks trolling in Modem World while Ross Rubin takes a broader look at evolving smartphone sizes in Switched On and, finally, designer Brian Reed sits down for Q&A. It's all waiting for you in Distro, so Keep Moving.
Tim Stevens is Editor-in-chief of Engadget and Editorial Director for AOL Tech. You can find him on Twitter at @tim_stevens.
This piece originally appeared in Distro #76.