BlackBerry 10 needs more than Flow for RIM to swim

BlackBerry 10 needs more than Flow for RIM to swim

Summary: Research in Motion needs compelling devices, excited consumers and strong developer commitment if the company has any chance at all in chasing a saturated mobile operating system market dominated by Apple, Google and even Microsoft.



RIM's new BlackBerry 10 user interface, shown above, is refeshingly different from that iOS and Android, but that alone will not determine the future of the platform and the sustainability of the company.

While the attention of majority of the ADD-addled technology press was hyperfocused on Apple's iOS 6 "Map Flap" last week, Research in Motion held its BlackBerry Jam Americas developer conference, where it demonstrated a near feature-complete version of its BlackBerry 10 operating system, which is due to ship on new RIM handsets in early 2013.

And surprisingly, the company lost less money in the last quarter than Wall Street analysts thought it would, even though financially the company is still a slow moving train wreck.

Who? What? Where? RIM? BlackBerry? Yeah.

While I wasn't physically present at the conference, I had some time to review a number of the keynotes and presentations, as well as read some of the analysis being done by folks who have had posession of developer devices and have seen the latest OS builds up close.

The new "Flow" UI, which will premiere on the new BlackBerry 10 devices next year is heavily focused on multitasking as well as single-inbox social media and messaging integration, quick insight into personal information management with a feature known as "Peek", and the introduction of a user interface element known as "Cascades" which is written in the Open Source Qt development framework that was acquired from NOKIA by Digia last month.

It's different than what we have seen on both iOS and Android, which are both single application and single-tasking focused, but not substantially different than what we saw with webOS on the Palm Pre smartphones and the HP TouchPad.

In fact, I would say that the "Cascades" is a direct copy of a similar user interface element previously seen in webOS.

I'd also go as far to say that their "Peek" feature, while implemented in a different fashion, is not that different conceptually from the Live Tiles that Microsoft uses in Windows Phone and Windows 8/RT to present a summary of critical application data on the Start Screen.

So yes, BlackBerry 10 is a bit different than the platforms that are in dominant use, and it also borrows some concepts from less successful platforms. The big question is will consumers and business customers buy the new devices, and will developers line up to write apps for the platform?

To try to answer this question, we should start with the devices. At the conference, all we saw were updated versions of the developer alpha handsets, which are not supposed to represent actual products that are being released next year.

But the folks over at Boy Genius Report last week managed to get a hold of a confidential RIM video originally published at, presumably produced for internal training purposes or for satisfying carrier partners, investors and shareholders.

The video describes the go to market strategy for the new BlackBerry 10 phones and the theme of an upcoming advertising campaign, which features two unnamed devices that are showcased in it.

One of which resembles the rectangular developer alpha device that was shown at BlackBerry Jam, and the other resembles a traditional BlackBerry Bold handset with a physical keyboard. Both of which have the sex appeal and industrial design of an early 1990s Volvo 700 Series Sedan, assuming they are real devices and not just mockups.

I can just see the campaign advertisements for these devices now: BlackBerry. We're boxy, but good.

I'm going to withold final judgment on the new devices until I see final product. But if they are anything like the PlayBook in terms of design aesthetics, and we don't see some very compelling product differentiation in terms of the hardware itself from the rest of the competition, the company is in really big trouble. 

From the perspective of the average consumer, BlackBerry just isn't cool anymore. If they still own a BlackBerry and their contracts expire soon, they'll almost certainly move on to iPhones and Androids.

Let's get to apps. The developer platform for BlackBerry 10 has been out for a year and a half, in the form of the QNX OS that runs on the company's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, which has shipped just approximately 1.74 million devices since its launch in March of 2011, many of which were sold at fire sale prices after a poor performance in the retail channel.

The PlayBook received an OS 2.0 update in February of 2012, which in addition to the heavily awaited native email, calendaring and PIM features that were absent from the device's initial release, also includes a Dalvik Virtual Machine that enables the tablet to run slightly modified versions of most Android applications.

PlayBook developers, as of version 2.0, have had the ability to use a number of APIs and toolsets to write applications for the tablet, which includes Adobe AIR, native C++, HTML5/WebWorks and also Android 2.x.

In addition to adding the Qt-based "Cascasdes" useable by the aformentioned APIs already available on the PlayBook, BlackBerry 10 adds support for true Java apps, presumably to bring old-school J2ME BlackBerry OS 5, 6 and 7 developers seeking the greener pastrures of Android and iOS back into the fold.

As of today, the majority of applications in the PlayBook's BlackBerry App World are ported Android 2.x apps, and very few are native C++ or WebWorks. 

Still, compared to Google Play and even Amazon's own Appstore for Android, the selection of Android applications on the PlayBook BlackBerry App World pales in comparison to those other two, let alone the total number of apps for PlayBook compared to what exists in total on Microsoft's own Windows Phone store.

Developers have had plenty of time to embrace the QNX platform that RIM is passing off as BlackBerry 10. Beyond a handful of die-hards and Android developers looking to find another alternative outlet for their apps, PlayBook OS 2.0 in terms of its ability to generate interest from the developer community has been a bust.

And despite some of the new UI improvements in BlackBerry 10, I'm not seeing a whole lot of incentive for that trend to change. The interest just plain isn't there.

Promising $10,000 in income to one-man shops for a BlackBerry 10 application port is a joke, when the same time and effort to produce a similar iOS and Android app could easily be several times that in labor costs alone. And those are with tools that are already familiar to them, on platforms with far less risks to be taken for that relative time investment.

Sure, there are definitive things that BlackBerry brings to the table from a techie perspective, such as world-class real-time multitasking and probably the best and most standards-compliant webkit-based mobile web browser in the industry.

But the average Joe looking to buy a smartphone or a tablet doesn't care about that kind of stuff. Had they, the PlayBook would have sold far more units in the channel than it did. What they want is the popular apps and access to the very same services that everyone else enjoys on their smartphones.

And please don't tell me an official FaceBook or Twitter client for BlackBerry 10 is enough. It isn't.

From the enterprise perspective, Windows Phone is starting to look very attractive because Microsoft owns the dominant underlying messaging and application server platforms that enterprises use, and there is very little BlackBerry 10 is going to offer on the secure messaging side that Microsoft won't with Windows Phone 8.

And unlike RIM, Microsoft has tons of money and other incentives to throw at developers when they need essential apps ported, particularly those from the very same enterprise partners that RIM is also courting to build enterprise BlackBerry 10 apps. They don't joke around.

So yes, BlackBerry 10 has a new look and some new features. But from where I'm sitting at this very moment, it's PlayBook 3.0.

Will BlackBerry 10 succeed where PlayBook failed? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: BlackBerry, Mobile OS, Mobility


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • You usually make more sense

    "The "Cascades"" blah "user interface element" huh, what?

    PlayBook 3.0? Are you kidding? I just got back from BBJam with a dev alpha phone and it looks very little like a PlayBook. The UI is revolutionary.

    Peek has very little to do with their Active Frames. It's baked into the Cascades _framework_ so that every single app can create a flow, peek experience, with an elegant one gesture return to the BlackBerry Hub.

    With their multi-language text prediction and the time traveling camera, built-in video editing software integrated BBM video chatting (58 million BBM users, top that) they have what it takes.
  • You usually make more sense

    "The "Cascades"" blah "user interface element" huh, what? Your "article" is embarrassing.

    PlayBook 3.0? Are you kidding? I just got back from BBJam with a dev alpha phone and it looks very little like a PlayBook. The UI is revolutionary.

    Peek has very little to do with their Active Frames. It's baked into the Cascades _framework_ so that every single app can create a flow, peek experience, with an elegant one gesture return to the BlackBerry Hub.

    With their multi-language text prediction and the time traveling camera, built-in video editing software integrated BBM video chatting (58 million BBM users, top that) they have what it takes.
  • BlackBerry10 "Balance" Function is Revolutionary for BYOD Movement

    The make-or-break feature for BlackBerry 10 is BlackBerry 10 "Balance." With a "Work" Profile and a "Personal" Profile which are separated and encrypted at the O/S-level, BlackBerry 10 resolves two problems simultaneously: 1)Employer's corporate IT's pain point and risk-taking with BYOD employees' devices. Virus and worm infection to the corporate Intranet is minimized. iOS and Android are outright dangerous to the corporate IT's data security, in comparison, for BYOD. 2)Employee's private "personal" data is encrypted and secure from prying eyes of their bosses and employers. Imagine how an employee feels more secure with their private information on the phone because all of his/her personal phone data is kept separate and encrypted from the "Work" profile in the phone. BB10 Balance is revolutionary, innovative, industry-first, and likely to be fully patent-protected. This isn't hype. This killer feature will convince many salaried workers to use a BlackBerry 10 phone to keep his/her job secure from getting fired over personal phone data. As you may know, the phone data privacy vs. Intranet security is a growing pain point for both employees and employers. For many people, this is a "job security" phone in the making, on top of having a sleek UI relative to competition. With 80 million subscriber base and more conversions coming from intelligent consumers who are pro-choice, BB10 will win.
    • Balance is the key

      If Balance lives up to the promise then I think RIM has a potential killer app. I (and many people I know) carry two devices today to physically separate work from personal and would gladly have a single device. For companies trying to promote BYOD, Balance "solves" my concerns about personal privacy; for employees trying to promote BYOD, Balance solves the Corporate concern about data privacy. I am a long-time BB customer (BB Torch, BB Bold, BB Playbook) and likely be adopting a BB10 device once available.
  • Short Sighted

    If you don't understand the "PEEK" concept, comparing it only to Live Tiles on the Start Screen of Windows Phone 7 - you have missed the point. It is different than that - and reduces the time needed to view critical notifications FROM ANYWHERE. Thats the key. Anywhere, anytime - it is a single gesture away - no in, out find the app, launch the app, check, close, go back to original app, & original place in app. It will save users lots of time.

    As for hardware/design/style sinking the company, I highly doubt that. I happen to like the minimalist design of the PlayBook as do nearly 2 million others. Great materials & solid construction set it apart from many Droid tablets. If that, or the BB9900 design elements make it into the BB10 phones, they will do just fine.

    Microsoft has been trying, despite all the cash you mention they have - and are barely making a dent. I am curious about their WP8 offering, although you need to keep in mind RIM has as many apps in their App World, as apps are available for the Windows Phone. RIM has legs right now with App World, with massive increases in applications & games especially over the last year.

    The UI design elements are important to set the platform apart from others. Of other features not mentioned, that will help to ensure BB10 is successful, or at least successful enough to keep RIM alive - DLNA compliancy to stream content to/from BB10 devices with other DLNA devices (TV's), Video-Calling (via BMM as well), Voice Controls (search, navigation, weather, directions, etc), and Screen Sharing between BB10 phones.

    Not once in your article did you mention the amazing Virtual/Touch keyboard RIM has implemented on the all-touch BB10 devices. Multi-lingual phraseology, Accuracy Compensation for fat fingers, Word Prediction with the ability to swipe predicted words up to the input area.... RIM is innovating where iOS & Android have been content with keyboard mediocrity on their touch platforms.
    • Cool

      Gizmo blah blah... we have just moved from bb to iphone 5. You just need to see the looks of envy in the office. everyone is trying to drop or dip their bbs in water......... blackberry is no longer cool... it doesn't matter what the geeknerds do.... try pulling out a bb on a date, the line goes something like this " err sorry, yes it's a blackberry, my company pays for it, and we are upgrading to iphones soon".... I blame bb for my lack of second dates
      Neil Corner
      • Your dates care about the smart phone you use?

        I guess you have nothing else of interest too them.
      • at least

        you did not have a Nokia. You would probably been arrested or something :)
      • I was in the lift with my wife...

        and her superior. And she asked, "is that an iPhone?" He answered almost apologetically, "err... yeah..." Why? Because that dude paid for something that NO ONE can can differentiate at one glance. And he said further, "its about the same as iPhone 4 except its lighter" and walked away. I was at the shop, fiddled with it a while and left it where it was after 30 seconds. And this is not the first time I observed this "looking stupid" behavior from an iPhone5 owner. It happened with another friend of mine and he was slipping his iPhone5 back to his pocket before I could ask, "hey... can I have a look?"

        You have no idea how stupid iPhone 5 is making its owners look. I could hold an iPhone4 and tell people its an iPhone5 and quickly slip in back into my pocket and guess what? 9 out of 10 will believe me.
        Samuel Koh
        • And your point is?

          So what?
          • And my point is...

            don't bother, if you still don't get it.
            Samuel Koh
      • The people that care

        Don't care about cool. They care about productivity and security.
  • multi-language predictive text

    As someone who sends texts, emails, chats etc. every day in both French and English, this multi-language predictive text feature is something that I would consider as a primary reason for purchasing this phone over something that lacks this feature.

    Currently on my android I have to change the settings of the phone to get the language to switch. I rarely bother for texts any more and it becomes frustrating very quickly writing messages in the wrong language. Trying to tap an email out usually requires me to make the change.

    Having this feature would make my messaging needs noticably easier from hour 1 with this device.
  • OS similar to Apple's iOS and Windows Phone 8

    The OS seems pretty much like a combo of iOS and Windows. The arrangement looks pretty much like that of Windows with Tile and the logo's has similarity with Apple, just that Apple has curved logo's.. They have been superb with connectivity and security I hope they capitalize on it this time around. For me its all about "PEEK"...
  • Majority of apps in App World for PlayBook are not Android

    It's as though everything was backwards day when you wrote this junk.

    Check out CreaVures (free) and any other big name app, Cut the Rope, Angry Birds. All native.
  • Users Attract Developers To A Platform, Not The Other Way Round

    What seems to be completely missing from this whole BB10 campaign is any actual focus on wooing users. Obsessing with developers in the expectation that they will attract users doesn't work, as Microsoft is discovering with its mobile efforts. They just seem unable or unwilling to learn the lesson of Android, which was able to come out from behind and overtake Apple, in spite of having fewer apps, and fewer developers working on apps. The users made all the difference.
    • Android came out on top because...

      Android came out on top because of the exclusivity agreement Apple had with AT&T and people didn't want to pay extra for BB when there was an alternative. Early Android phones really weren't very good but they were the only option for Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. People who didn't want to move to AT&T were stuck with Android until Android. Now Android has matured into something that's actually good (assuming you get the right OEM/hardware/Android version combination) and so they even hold their own on AT&T. Windows Phone came out so late that there wasn't a wide open niche like Android had to fill. BB just didn't keep up otherwise they probably could have been in the current Android position now.
  • BlackBerry 10 and RIM's Future

    A suggestion: Next time attend the developer's conference and get the complete story and all the facts before you predict doom and gloom for RIM.
  • Jason Perlow is Clueless

    Maybe before you make comments you should ATTEND the event.

    You are so clueless on so many fronts.

    >>I can just see the campaign advertisements for these devices now: BlackBerry. We're boxy, but good.

    What are you Mr. Style ?

    Where do you talk about "Balance" for the BYOD crowd?

    Where do you talk about security, which is the best in the business?

    80- Million users. Good base to start from
    Zumba Jeff
  • It looks incredible

    I think it looks incredible. Provided people take the time to learn to use it, i find it extremely fluid and useful. All that its missing is an app count, and that count is rising. I think it will sell.