On Sept. 25, BlackBerry smartphone maker Research In Motion Ltd. demonstrated the latest versions of its previously announced features for work-life device management, user interface navigation and Web browsing.
“The mobile landscape is preparing for another shift, and with BlackBerry 10 we are at the start of a new era of mobile computing,” CEO Thorsten Heins contended. However, the company’s smartphones are quickly losing their once-dominant market position, particularly in law firms.
Last Tuesday’s demonstrations were part of the RIM annual developer conference, called BlackBerry Jam Americas, at which attendees received updated test versions of next year’s smartphones running the BlackBerry 10 operating system. There will be BlackBerry Balance is the Waterloo, Ontario, company’s answer to the bring-your-own-device trend. With a single finger swipe, users can change their smartphone’s identity — applications, display, phone number, security — from personal to work and back. Data is stored in separate places, and either half can be accessed or even wiped for security reasons without impacting the other, officials explained.
The latest version of the BlackBerry 10 task switcher, known as the Hub, is accessed by swiping upward with the thumb from the screen’s bottom-center and then to the right. It’s a natural movement for the joint of a human thumb, officials noted. Rather than only switching tasks, users can continue viewing information about appointments, contacts and messages from inside the Hub, before sliding back to their previous task — referred to as a “Peek” in BlackBerry 10-speak.
RIM also announced a new Web browser. “We have focused significant time and energy on making sure our users will have a killer fast browsing experience,” Heins said. An immediately noticeable change is the address bar now sits at the bottom of the screen, so it’s easier to reach while using the device one-handed. Notably, the browser supports Adobe Flash technology, which is controversial — Flash was removed by both Apple and Google due to technical instability.
RIM’s live Webcast gave the company a chance to show some humor. “You can actually continue to use your standard HDMI and existing BlackBerry power connectors,” Heins joked, referring to RIM’s present and future use of standard adapters such as the Micro USB standard. Apple Inc. this month, in launching the iPhone 5, required that users buy a $29 adapter for older cables, despite critics’ assertions that industry-standard Micro USB would have sufficed.
But mobile device launches are best known for showmanship — Apple’s Steve Jobs often had “one more thing” to show, and Google hired stuntmen to infiltrate its Nexus 7 tablet presentation while wearing high-tech video glasses. Not to be outdone, RIM had its top software development officials Law Firm Mobile. “BlackBerry’s early differentiation came from email/messaging, which is now a ubiquitous feature on smartphones. RIM will need to sustain a faster pace of innovation than Apple and Google, both of whom are increasingly targeting the enterprise.”
The RIM strategy is similar to that of Palm Inc., which also debuted an acclaimed user interface after its original PalmOS devices became stale and lost substantial market share. The move resulted in Hewlett Packard Co. acquiring Palm for $1.2 billion in 2010 and eventually discontinuing all Palm products.