In a few hours, Research in Motion will be showcasing its latest BlackBerry 10 operating system and the BlackBerry-maker is expected to make some hardware announcements as well. The event will be observed closely by industry-watchers as much of the fate of RIM rests on the new BlackBerry 10 OS to help it compete in an Android and iOS world.
Given the numerous mini announcements that RIM had made thus far since having initially announced BlackBerry 10 to developers followed by the vast leaks that we’ve seen in recent weeks, there should be little surprise as to what we’ll see today. Here’s what we know and expect to see from the BlackBerry 10 announcement.
The backbone of today’s event will be centered around BlackBerry 10, the proprietary OS that will power all things BlackBerry for years to come. BlackBerry 10 is a complete reboot of the current BlackBerry OS as we know it, and the OS will be built on and centered around touch, much in the same way that Microsoft had ditched its aging Windows Mobile platform a few years ago in favor of Windows Phone. The question still remains if BlackBerry 10 will give RIM enough power to emerge from the ashes of a once glorious smartphone empire like a phoenix.
With BlackBerry 10, there will be a lot of features that will be centered around consumers–as RIM attempts to compete with Android and iOS–as well as for the enterprise–as it hopes to hang on to loyalists of the platform.
Consumer. Touch will be the highlight. We’ve seen the new predictive touchscreen keyboard that can intuit what you’re trying to type based on the context of the app or field box you’re trying to type in. Begin with ‘w’ key in the browser and just above the ‘w’ key is a predictive ‘www’ for a web page entry. If that’s what you want, click it. If not, keep keying away.
BlackBerry Hub. Notifications will be a key feature that span the enterprise and consumer space. In BlackBerry 10, there will a notification center called BlackBerry Hub, which is accessible via a gesture flick of your fingers on the touchscreen. On BlackBerry Hub, you’ll see notifications and alerts for emails, text messages, BBM, calendar appointments, and more.
BlackBerry Balance. RIM is trying to position its BlackBerry 10 OS as a balance between work and play. With BlackBerry 10, the BlackBerry Balance feature is RIM’s ticket to the IT manager to help get its platform and devices adopted in the workplace. BlackBerry Balance is like having two user profiles on a PC, but all on one phone. In work mode, you’ll have access to everything your IT department wants you to have through a BlackBerry Enterprise Server provisioning. Switch to play mode, and you’ll have different ringtones, wallpapers, and apps that you can download and customize yourself. Split personality? Sure. The beauty, however, is that Balance keeps the work side secure. Got a confidential document on your work email? Sure, you can copy and save to the work provision, but you cannot save or paste copied text over to the play side. This keeps your IT department happy and allows you to carry one device for work and play.
BlackBerry World. RIM hasn’t been shy about courting developers. At launch, there will be Facebook and Twitter apps, designed by RIM for BlackBerry 10, along with about 70,000 third-party apps. Hopefully, RIM will be able to get some big names to sign up, like Amazon Kindle, Pandora, Netflix, Barnes & Noble Nook, Instagram, YouTube, Audible, Uber, and others.
The BlackBerry 10-maker also announced that ESPN will be debuting so it seems to be following the trajectory of Microsoft when that company was actively courting for Windows Phone 7. RIM will likely parade developers and game studios on stage as part of the announcement.
RIM also announced that it will be launching launching videos, music, and movies in its BlackBerry World store to give it more content to compete against iTunes and Google Play.
Others. RIM hasn’t said much about GPS and turn-by-turn navigation. Hopefully, we’ll see a return of BlackBerry Maps with an updated UI and more polish. With rivals iOS, Android, and Windows Phone all offering free voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation, this could be an area that RIM will give some stage time to at the presentation. At least RIM could poke some fun at Apple Maps.
RIM will be debuting its BlackBerry Z10 slate-style smartphone at the event. Developers already had access to developer hardware of the phone through developer devices, and the Z10 will largely resemble those models with more polish and more power. Running the BlackBerry 10 OS with the QNX architecture, the BlackBerry Z10–or whatever it will be called–will largely resemble a shrunken BlackBerry PlayBook Tablet. It will utilize the familiar cards interface, have ample power, and can run Adobe Flash plugin inside the BlackBerry browser.
Similar to the BlackBerry PlayBook, the Z10 will essentially be a button-less phone. No large home button a la iPhone or clunky navigation buttons on Android, the BlackBerry Z10 really is a minimalistic phone. You don’t even need to press the power button to wake the screen–a swipe up is all that is needed on the touchscreen. The Z10 will be an all-touch experience with gestures and swipes. The downside? There may be a little bit of a learning curve to get acquainted with how BlackBerry 10 works, and hopefully RIM packages a cheat-sheet inside the retail box for users.
The make-it-or-break-it device for RIM will be a dual-core smartphone with an 8-megapixel camera on the rear as well as a 4.3-inch HD display.
Another phone that may get some stage time is a keyboarded model, which has been rumored to be called the BlackBerry X10. That phone would essentially resemble today’s BlackBerry Bold 9900 series smartphone, but with a square-resolution 720p HD display up top above the hardware keyboard. It’s been rumored that RIM will begin seeding the X10 to developers at the show, so likely the X10 won’t be released at this event and it will be available after the Z10 launches. Also, the X10 was recently referred to as the BlackBerry N10, so naming can change.
RIM is expected to release a total of six new BlackBerry 10 smartphones this year, and this is just the beginning of it all.
BlackBerry 10 Tablet
It was ages ago–in tech time–that RIM had debuted its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. An updated PlayBook can be in the cards as well, though RIM may initially just focus its efforts on phones and briefly talk about tablet hardware.
An Integrated Ecosystem
Apple has iOS and Mac OS X, Microsoft has Windows and Windows Phone. This leaves RIM. The allure that RIM can provide is a connected ecosystem in the car. As BlackBerry 10 relies on the same QNX architecture that powers in-dash infotainment systems in cars, such as BMW’s iDrive, RIM can potentially create an integrated apps ecosystem between cars and the phones. This will likely take time to mature, pending partnerships and agreements with car-makers, but there’s potential for RIM to expand and think out of the box.
Release Dates and Carriers
The key to the launch of BlackBerry 10 is carrier support, both in the U.S. and internationally. RIM should see strong carrier support given that its BlackBerry phones have done well in the past. In the U.S., it’s all but confirmed that AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless will all be supporting BlackBerry. RIM says that new hardware should arrive on carriers shortly after launch, so we can probably see availability of these devices within a month, if not shorter considering how aggressive RIM has been with this launch.
Pricing should be in the high-end and the BlackBerry 10 should be priced to compete against iPhone and flagship Android smartphones. I’d guess that pricing will be between $150-$200 on a two-year contract. There’s been some chatter that the BlackBerry Z10 could cost as much as $700-$800 without a contract, which would be at the very high end.