Sometimes clichés say a lot, and so, RIM's next BlackBerry is an evolution, not a revolution. That could be a problem for the Canadian smartphone giant, as many had expected it to be a phone based on the PlayBook tablet running QNX. Instead it's a device in the familiar 'powerbar' format, running a new version of the familiar BlackBerry OS, BlackBerry 7.
Or perhaps it won’t be a problem. The new Bold and its predecessors are quintessentially business devices — not the consumer devices that commandeer so much of our attention these days. Even so, there's plenty of power in the Bold 9900, with a 1.2GHz processor and 768MB of on-board RAM, as well as a hybrid of QWERTY keyboard and near-retina quality 640-by-480 capacitive touch screen. But the specs aren't everything — it's what businesses can do with a phone that really matters.
The key to BlackBerry in business is BES, the BlackBerry Enterprise Server system of servers and services that manage delivering mail efficiently, while handling security and providing a device management service. It's BES that powers the new Bold in business, and a new version is due this summer that will enable a range of new security services called BlackBerry Balance.
BlackBerry Balance is the reason why the Bold 9900 will be successful. It’s a tool that lets you separate personal and business information on managed devices, ensuring there's no contact or way of copying from one to the other. Users don't want their personal photographs being seen by system administrators, and businesses don't want confidential documents being copied onto home PCs. With Balance there's a sandbox for business applications and a set of tools that make sure business data on the phone is encrypted.
While RIM is targeting Balance at businesses where users bring their own devices, it works well enough as an additional set of tools for organisations that provide their staff with phones.
Liquid Graphics will make it a lot more attractive for businesses to transition to HTML5 user interfaces for line-of-business applications, as these can be packaged and delivered as BlackBerry applications to new devices — as well as working well with Microsoft's new Internet Explorer 9. You won't hear either company state it, but RIM's Liquid Graphics approach is a validation of Microsoft's Native Web concept — it will also help clarify it as an OS-agnostic way of noting the importance of web user interfaces to the next generation of computing, where browser technologies need to be as thin as possible in order to give users the end-to-end performance they expect.
The Bold 9900 is definitely a business class device, and one we'll quickly see in the hands of executives when it rolls out at the end of the summer. Its additional features (and support for BlackBerry Messenger) will keep it attractive for consumers, but we're not expecting it to be a mass market hit.