One of the most frequently asked questions I get is about RIM and Blackberry and what does the future hold. So when I was given the opportunity to spend a full day with RIM being introduced to BlackBerry 10 I reshuffled my life and got on a plane. I wanted answers. So now, as I fly home at 30 000 feet, I reflect back on the day and it has occurred to me – RIM’s Blackberry 10 is not just good but its the future of mobile computing.
Here is what happened:
Lelany Sommers, Business Development Manager for Africa at RI,M kicked off Blackberry Jam Cape Town with the most unexpected video from RIM executives. It was a Music Video showing Alec and Chris from RIM singing “The Waiting Is the Hardest Part” ! (note: the video is not yet released)
The video rocks out with words like “Its not quiet ready yet” and “Waiting is the hardest part” which exactly echoes the sentiments of the development community who is asking : What is RIM doing ? and Should we be investing time and effort to build for the Blackberry platform ?
To answer these questions the big guns came out: Alexandra Zagury RIM South Africa Vice-President and Managing Director. Alexandra wasted no time in setting the record straight. Contrary to popular belief Blackberry isn’t going anywhere – Blackberry has grown by 523% year on year in South Africa. Developers are not leaving the platform – 400+ local developers submitted over 600 apps and over 96 million apps have been downloaded by South Africans. Not surprising since 7 out of 10 smartphones are Blackberry phones. So the future is not all doom and gloom but on the contrary with Blackberry 10 as the night in shining armour.
To show just how advanced the platform is, Rui Brites, Director of Product Management Africa and Luca Sale Blackberry Product Evangelist, demonstrated each and every feature showing just how real Blackberry 10 is.
And the audience was wowed.
The room was filled with hard-core developers who write applications for all platforms. This is a hard audience to please. So when the entire room gasp and “ooooooed” and “ahhhhed”, you know thats a good sign.
A couple of features I want to highlight:
Photo Time Warp. You know where you take a group photo and there is always someone whose eyes are closed? This is no longer a problem as Blackberry 10 has Time Warp. This allows you to “go back in time” and select the moment when that persons eyes are open and replace those closed eyes with the open ones. Tada !
The Keyboard: Blackberry is known as THE qwerty keyboard company and so the bar was set high to produce a keyboard that is evolutionary, especially as its a soft-keyboard. And I must say, that the team came through and delivered in a big way.
The Keyboard is highly responsive – something that is a given with hard keyboard. There is no more lag as you type. The device learns from the way you type and calibrates itself accordingly. For example: if hit the letter I but was aiming to hit the letter K (which is just below it), the keyboard will understand that and next time you make the same keystroke, it will pop up the correct letter. This “learning” results in reducing the amount of mistakes you make as you type and therefore you can type faster. The other keyboard feature is the automatic completion of word as you type. The words appear above the next letter and with a simple flick of the finger the word is inserted. the system also learn your own unique lingo from your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN, Emails etc. so your unique sequence of words come up.
I found the keyboard to be very easy to use and within seconds I was typing like a champ with very little corrections.
The Screen Setup: The screen setup is unique to Blackberry 10. In the middle you have the four active applications in a tile format – if you have more than four active apps, they are tiled below. On the left you have the other apps that are installed. On the right you have messaging. Everything works by way of a Flow. You no longer open and close apps but rather intuitively flow from one to the other.
For example: whilst listening to music, you notice the led changing to red indicating a new message. You simple swipe the music slightly and it reveals the messaging icons. You select the Inbox where your new message is and it opens that new mail. You then swipe back. No more menus. Intuitive multitasking flow.
Michael Weitzel, Technical Partnership Manager – Africa, proceeded to talk through the underlying architecture and how everything fits together. Something that developers needed to see in order to gain confidence that there is a future for their apps Blackberry.
A statement that stood out was “We are not known for being Open Source but that is changing”. This was evident in the way that the open source projects are available and that other companies, specifically Game Developers are able to easily port their apps to Blackberry without changing their code.
Blackberry 10 rocks. It is a solid platform with incredible potential for developers who, for the first time, will be able to use the entire screen for their applications. Developer access has been extended from a couple of facilities such as GPS, Accelerometer, Camera to items such as Task Bar, Messaging, BBM etc.
So in summary:
For me there are a couple of “flags” which are thankfully being addressed:
1. Missing Link – Blackberry has the Protect program that allows you seamlessly backup your contacts. If you move to another phone you can restore your contacts to that phone. Great. However, it doesn’t have a link back to the PC. So unless you have the USB cable and synchronise with the PC you don’t get any new contacts that have been added or changed. Same applies for Notes and especially Calendar. This is being addressed with cloud synching.
2. Native Apps – there are a handful of absolute must have apps such as Twitter, Facebook, Evernote etc. It is imperative that these companies develop a native app for Blackberry 10 so that users are able to use them effectively and not their “web app” equivalent. These apps need to be fully integrated into the device. This is a major confidence builder as these are the first app people look for in App World. If they are not there its a turn off.
3. Africa First – RIM’s future is the emerging markets. As I have stated many times before: focus completely on the emerging markets and make the US market secondary. Reverse the traditional thinking of US first and the rest to follow later. Imagine launching services in Africa and India only and letting the US wait. This is a mind-set that show how serious RIM is about its emerging customers and their future.
Personally, I am delighted to be apart of this new vigour in RIM. It is much needed. There is new DNA injected into the business which will allow RIM to grow in the future and is creating excitement and buzz amongst developers. Very Smart move to arm developers with devices. As the saying goes “Build it and they will come” – a full App World on top of amazing hardware makes for loyal customers.
Finally, South Africa is seen as a top priority for RIM. We are due to be on the first release of Blackberry 10 in the first quarter of of 2013.