ORLANDO, Fla. -- Here at BlackBerry World 2012, it's make it or break it time for RIM, but you wouldn't guess that from all the exited faces roaming the halls and conference rooms. Perhaps I'm exaggerating, but with the unveiling of the Dev Alpha device and more details of BlackBerry 10 OS, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins did try to dispel dour moods.
There is, however, an undeniable spring in the step of conference goers this week, which wasn't present last year. The burning question is what exactly will BlackBerry 10 offer future smartphone users? Though there's still not a whole lot of info to go on, RIM seems to think its vision is bold and extremely compelling. I won't go that far, but the company may actually have a real shot at turning things around. Here's why.
Focus, focus, focus
Many massive technology corporations have stumbled when they've grown too big and unwieldy. Some have died spectacular deaths with great drama -- Palm is a great example. Others have simply faded away like an old Polaroid. What ever happened to Kodak anyway? In any case, RIM's plan to focus like a laser beam on its core business customers, the folks still signed on and paying the bills, is a solid way to at least stem the bleeding.
A fresh new look
A huge part of RIM's woes is that the current phone OS, BlackBerry 7 is an ancient relic, a throwback to the stone age of Java-powered handsets. BlackBerry 10 changes all that. It's a much more modern, UNIX-based operating system from QNX that has run critical industrial infrastructure and telematic systems in cars for years. Judging from what Heins showcased in his keynote, the look and feel of BB10 will be something like a cross between all three of its major mobile OS competitors.
The Home screen will have big graphical tabs for application shortcuts that will display real-time information, much like Android widgets or Windows Phone Live tiles. It's still unclear exactly how these tabs will function but you can bet RIM will do its best to gin them up with plenty of fancy eye-candy.
Feel the flow
RIM has talked up its multitasking skills from back when it launched the PlayBook tablet and even with its BlackBerry 7 phones -- remember Super Apps? This concept has now morphed into what RIM calls the Flow view. The idea is to have all your apps naturally integrated into the OS, letting you move smoothly from task to task without having to first drop what you're doing, manually close one app, then fire up another just to check Facebook, Twitter, the weather, or whatever. This sounds a whole lot like what Microsoft is trying to accomplish with its Metro UI and People hub in Windows Phone.
Efficiency and keeping in the loop are mission critical skills for corporate warriors. BlackBerry 10, says RIM, will boast the strong messaging abilities it has traditionally had such as a unified inbox plus new innovations like the advanced virtual keyboard. Similar to many popular third-party options on Android and iOS, the BB10 keyboard will predict your next word and place them right above the letter it expects you to hit next.
You can then flick words upward to form sentences in a flash or swipe a finger horizontally to quickly delete. I've tried it personally and can say it's a freakishly cool sensation, almost like the phone is melding with my mind -- in a good way.
A sensual UI
Besides the finger swipes on the keyboard, RIM plans to integrate a whole bunch of gesture controls into BlackBerry 10. For example, you'll be able to answer or reject calls by performing a long press then swiping up or down. In fact I sat down with Chris Smith, VP of application platform and tools, at the show. Mr. Smith explained the idea is for applications to behave in many new and interesting ways. So once inside, say, a weather app, you'll be able to drag your finger up, down, left, or right to access many different views.
Another element of RIM's vision is how BlackBerry 10 will adjust itself to each individual user over time. The keyboard for instance will pay attention to where your fingers fall and become better at adapting to your typing style. Other personalization skills are in the works, too, RIM execs told me, but we'll have to wait for more details.
It all sounds well and good, and an advanced BlackBerry platform is frankly what RIM needed two years ago. It's also a key linchpin to attracting users, and, more importantly, developers to the BB platform. I just hope it'll become a reality ASAP since the longer it takes, the deeper the hole gets.