With BlackBerry 10, RIM must pull off its greatest trick yet

Summary:RIM's new operating system will need to score with consumers and business, tablets and smartphones. It's not going to be an easy feat to achieve.

RIM has finally named the date: on 30 January it will launch its new BlackBerry 10 operating system , as well as showcase the first two smartphones running on it.

BlackBerry 10 - and the devices that support it - are absolutley critical to RIM's future, and as such the company has been methodically laying the groundwork for the OS' launch for some time now.

Already RIM has said BlackBerry 10 has achieved FIPS 140-2 certification , which means that government agencies have got the necessary security clearance to deploy smartphones running the OS as soon as it becomes available. It's also already testing BlackBerry 10 with 50 carriers and has stepped up its efforts to woo developers - recently opening a new developer centre .

BlackBerry 10
RIM is betting big on BlackBerry 10. Image: Ben Woods

BlackBerry 10 also features the revamped Flow user interface along with new ideas like Hub and Peek which RIM will be hoping make the software more attractive to the increasingly discerning smartphone user.

According to IDC, RIM had a mere 4.3 per cent of the smartphone market in the third quarter of this year - compared to 9.5 per cent a year ago. If it's to succeed in clawing back that lost share, it needs the launch of BlackBerry 10 to go well - and that will be an incredibly complicated trick to pull off.

Getting the buzz back

The competition in the consumer market is cutthroat and, like it or not, RIM has to be able to attract consumers - because there's no such thing as a business handset anymore.

Thanks to the rise of BYOD, it's now consumers - not CIOs or IT managers - that are making a lot of decisions about what smartphones get used in the enterprise. As a result, the next generation of BlackBerry devices - and the software they use - need to look cool, not corporate.

That's where the redesigned Flow UI comes in - with Flow, RIM has to walk a fine line between bringing the BlackBerry user interface up to date and appealing to those consumers now used to the more intuitive likes of iOS, and alienating those who'll have to relearn how to navigate the device.

Keeping the enterprise onside

Keeping IT happy is still vital: RIM can't afford to forget about the enterprise market, because that's where some of its most loyal - and lucrative - customers are to be found.

But even here RIM is facing a new rival. While for the best part of a decade RIM has been the handset maker of choice for the enterprise, that's now potentially under threat with the arrival of Windows Phone 8 devices such as the Lumia 920 which can integrate neatly with Windows 8.

Still, the addition of BlackBerry Balance may help RIM in its mission to appeal to both business and consumer:  it allows users to keep personal apps and information are kept separate from work data, and switch between the profiles easily.

The work profile is encrypted, which should play well with IT, while the personal profile should allow users to get the most out of their smartphone when it's for personal use.

Succeeding on tablets

Another question is whether BlackBerry 10 can re-energise the Playbook. It's no longer enough just to be a handset maker: having a tablet is an essential part of the ecosystem play (as Microsoft has just realised), as well as giving RIM more gear to shift and showing shareholders that it can keep pace with current hardware trends.

RIM's tablet hasn't been a huge success so far and faces tough competition from the ever-present iPad as well as newer rivals like the Surface and Nexus devices. Replacing Playbook OS with BlackBerry 10 and creating a stronger partnership between its tablet and smartphones could help RIM close the gap with its slate rivals.  However, get the tablet side of BlackBerry 10 wrong, and RIM will curse the device to more years of irrelevance and weak sales.

What about the date?

January 30 is earlier than some expected - but it means RIM misses out on the Christmas rush, giving its rivals on the consumer side that little bit longer the entrench their positions.

True, most of RIM's enterprise customers may be happy to wait, as corporate procurement runs on a completely different timeline to the consumer world.

Really, by setting a date for the launch of the operating system now, more than two months ahead of time, what RIM is hoping is that it will not be forgotten under the avalanche of Windows Phone 8, iPhone and Android announcements. Setting a date may keep the industry from forgetting about RIM, but it will be quality of BlackBerry 10 that will decide its fate.

With BlackBerry 10, RIM must pull off its greatest trick yet - convincing the world that it is still relevant.

Topics: BlackBerry, Smartphones

About

Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic, and has been writing about technology, business and culture for more than a decade. Previously he was the editor of silicon.com.

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