We live in exciting times! While this may sound like a loose bastardisation of the ancient Chinese curse, it’s also the perfect description of the world of mobile technology. This really is the most amazing time ever. The ascent of Android from literally nowhere, the fanatical following of the iPhone, the death of Symbian, the resurgence of Windows Phone, the rise from the ashes of Nokia – it’s like the plot of an amazing Bollywood masala movie minus the item numbers and colourful villains. But for the moment, nothing comes close to the BlackBerry story. This is a perfect example of when truth is stranger than fiction.
Once upon a time
The BlackBerry story started in the ’90s with the first BlackBerry device. RIM called that product a BlackBerry because the keyboard’s buttons looked like the drupes of the blackberry fruit. The idea was to give the name BlackBerry to just that first device, but the name stuck. The first BB was just a glorified pager that could receive messages and send back replies, which for that time was a very big deal. In 2002, the first real BlackBerry smartphone, the 5810, was released and the rest is history. In fact, it’s so much part of history that the term ‘CrackBerry’ (the comparison of BlackBerry addiction being as much as an addiction to cocaine) was named ‘New Word of the Year’ in 2006 by Webster’s New World College Dictionary. BlackBerry ruled the world, it had a fanatical following, it revolutionised instant email, it gave birth to a whole new tribe of BBMers and it produced a generation of people tapping the red light to make sure that their BB was still working! Around 200 million BlackBerrys were shipped out, almost all governments used BBs, as did most defence agencies and almost every corporate across the globe. And then in one swift swoop, it all fell apart.
The world switched to touchscreens, apps and great optics on their cameraphones – three things the BlackBerry totally sucked at. Slowly the whole amazing story unravelled and came apart. Sales numbers fell, BB phones were no longer cutting edge, specs looked antiquated, the phone themselves looked old and kludgy, the BB Playbook tablet was poorly thought out and the BB app domain was completely outdated. Losses mounted, bad decisions were taken on a regular basis, people abandoned BB and moved towards the Apple-Android juggernaut and every single morning brought with it a new rumour of how RIM and BB were about to be bought out by XXX (add any company name that you can think of). It seemed that the BB fairytale was over!
The Knight in shining armour Until BB10.
Let me first explain why this new OS and devices are going to be the reason why RIM could make the greatest comeback ever. First, BB10. This is BlackBerry rewritten from the ground up. It’s slick and fast and looks like a million bucks. But far more than that is the innovation and features it holds.
Peek and Flow
Whatever you’re doing on the phone, swipe upwards and take a peek at your notifications and the number of new messages you’ve received. Swiping left moves you to menus with an app, as also to different apps screens, all of which are updating in real time. The BlackBerry Hub is the best and most intuitive integration I’ve seen of contacts, calendar, email and social apps such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Swipe up and right and you get the BB Hub from anywhere.
BBM with new features as well as an upgraded instant email system.
Camera with Time Shift feature captures milli seconds before and after the photo. Dial back in time to see which picture, smile or expression came out best. Seems like RIM really took the ‘BB cameras are the worst in the world’ remarks to heart and really did something about it.
The real big deal is of course the keyboard. Most people have stuck to their BlackBerries only due to the speed of typing they can achieve. Well, whatever you were able to do – now double it. It learns your language, your style, your words, your terminologies, your slang, your abbreviations, suggestions pop around the letters on the keyboard and you just swipe the words up. I was hitting about 80 words a minute within the first hour.
Browsing was another super sucky feature in all BBs, but no more. Web pages now render with speed, simplicity, perfect size, format and built-in sharing.
There’s a lot more new stuff in BB10, but for the moment, let’s keep to these. While BB10 is great and pulls of a lot of innovation, why is it any different from a new version of Android or iOS? Why would it bring RIM back from the doldrums? Actually, it’s a matter of simple mathematics. Currently BB has about 90 million active subscribers and users across the world. BB10 is good enough for each and every one of them to look to upgrading to a BB10 phone. Some will do it right away, some after a while – but eventually there’s enough in BB10 to make them all want to upgrade. That would mean about 90 million new BB phones sold. Ninety freaking million! RIM just needs about half of that in the first year to become a major player once again the world of smartphones.
It’ll take a flaw of gigantic proportions for RIM to screw this up from here. My hope is that they don’t do anything spectacularly foolish and let the natural momentum take them towards their comeback destiny. After all, we do live in exciting times but there’s a limit to the level of excitement one can endure. Any more than this and it could well be fatal!
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3. Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni
From HT Brunch, February 3
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