The BlackBerry London could be the first phone to run BB10.
Research In Motion (RIM), it seems, has one shot left. After several years of smartphone releases that simply haven't been able to compete with the success of smartphones from Apple, Samsung and HTC, the hopes of this once-great company now hinge on what Americans might call a "Hail Mary" pass.
RIM is on the verge of publicly revealing its new BlackBerry 10 (BB10), the next big leap forward for its software ecosystem. BB10 will be a completely different operating system from the software found on the latest BlackBerrys, based on the same QNX architecture that the PlayBook tablet OS is constructed on.
The QNX architecture is a solid base, but it isn't a guarantee of success. Let's not beat around the bush. The way RIM handled the launch of the PlayBook and its tablet OS was shambolic. In my opinion, the PlayBook is among the best tablets with regards to hardware and design, but its software was released half-baked without email, contacts or a calendar (among many other important features), and it remained that way for 18 months.
This makes it extremely difficult to convince people of something I really believe in; that RIM's mobile operating system, based on QNX, has the potential to be the best of the best. To out-iPhone the iPhone, to out-geek Android and to out-smoke Windows Phone. With the recent release of the PlayBook OS 2, RIM righted many of these wrongs, plus it added Android app support, but there is still room for improvement.
I don't want this going pear-shaped again. So, RIM, if you'll pardon my forwardness, here is a list of must-have features that BB10 needs to make the impact you need it to.
Zippy, slick web browsing is something that the iPhone and the best Android handsets have in common, but it's one area of the PlayBook's operation that I think could use a great deal of attention. There are parts of the PlayBook browsing experience that are great; it supports Flash content, for example, and it handles tabbed browsing well, but it still feels sluggish, and RIM cannot afford to keep it this way.
Some may say that the ability to share your phone's 3G data over Wi-Fi is "nice to have", and not "must-have". I disagree. Wi-Fi hotspot is a feature I use all the time on Android phones, and it's one of the features I miss most when using a Windows Phone. Current-gen BlackBerrys running OS 7.1 have this feature, but the PlayBook does not. Hopefully, RIM will decide that it's worth the effort.
This is one area where Apple continues to be leagues ahead of the competition, but RIM is in a unique position to capitalise on this. Creating a standing docking connection for its phones, and enticing third-party manufacturers to create unique accessories would go a long way to helping BlackBerry return to the popular consciousness. Apple currently enjoys large sections of electronics stores dedicated to Apple-only accessories, which in turn act like huge advertising hubs for the Apple brand.
Nail Android app cross-over
Creating an easy way for Android app developers to port over apps to the PlayBook OS was a masterstroke in RIM's otherwise disappointing tablet release. But anyone who has used this feature will tell you that there is still room for improvement. For example, the apps currently play in a separate Android App Player, which really disjoints the user experience. RIM should do more to make these apps feel at home on the new BB10 system.
This goes without saying, but RIM needs one seriously sexy smartphone to win back the hearts and minds of the once-loyal BlackBerry fans. It may sound like blasphemy, but BlackBerry can't sacrifice screen real estate to accommodate a keyboard. In my opinion, a slider with a keyboard under a 4-inch touchscreen would work well, allowing RIM to play to its heritage while offering the large-screen experience that people are demanding in competitors' devices.
That "one more thing"
Even if RIM includes all of these elements, and even more that we've overlooked, it is still going to be an uphill battle convincing tech-savvy users on iOS and Android to convert to its new ecosystem. RIM needs that "one more thing" famously included at the end of an Apple keynote; something to set it apart from the pack, something that no one else is doing. It won't be enough to replicate what's offered by its competitors; it has to go beyond them, or risk extinction.