It is no secret that the future BlackBerry 10 is likely RIM's last great hope. The company is down on the ropes by anyone's measure, and everything is riding on market acceptance of BlackBerry 10. RIM is in effect starting over with the next version of its OS, and it isn't the only platform doing so.
Microsoft has been pulling out all the stops to get Windows Phone rolling in the mobile space, and by the numbers it hasn't worked. Even with a billion dollar deal with Nokia to buy its way into the market, Windows Phone has only garnered 2 - 3 percent market share, and it doesn't look to improve much until the next big version, Windows Phone 8.
Related: BlackBerry Dev Alpha device and BB World demos show RIM isn’t out of the game yet | RIM’s challenge: Platforms don’t sell, gadgets do | First look: BB 10 | BlackBerry 10: Best feature nobody's talking about
Strangely, Microsoft is in effect starting over with Windows Phone 8, as the underlying platform is changing at the core. Windows Phone 8 is changing to merge it with Windows 8 from a developer's standpoint. The silent decision to do away with Silverlight and XNA APIs in favor of WinRT has a dramatic impact on Windows Phone. Microsoft watcher Paul Thurrott sums it up perfectly:
"Yes, Windows Phone 8 will retain the Windows Phone name, and yes, it will run “legacy” Windows Phone 7.x apps, those apps that were written in Silverlight or the game-centric XNA APIs. But with Silverlight and XNA both silently cancelled deep within Microsoft’s ever-reimagined corporate hulk, the move to a variation of WinRT means that Windows Phone is starting over again. That mean more work for developers who, let’s face it, haven’t really had much incentive to adopt this platform in the first place."
Read that passage again and think about it for a moment. All current Windows Phone 7 apps will run on Windows Phone 8, but will be "legacy" apps. They will not be true Windows Phone 8 apps, and for that to change developers must be willing to make a concerted effort to recode them into "real" apps for the new version and all versions going forward.
As Thurrott said, the app situation has Windows Phone "starting over", which puts it in roughly the same situation as RIM will be with BlackBerry 10. Put another way, the Windows Phone advantage for apps will be largely wiped out and BlackBerry 10 will be starting with a more level playing field with Windows Phone.
Combine the restarting ecosystem of both platforms with the declining Windows Phone installed user base and BlackBerry 10 starts to look like a viable competitor. The declining user base for Windows Phone has happened while Microsoft has spent hundreds of millions on buying an entry in that market, which speaks volumes.
It is important to note that the current BlackBerry market share is at least three times that of Windows Phone currently. Even while RIM's market share continues to decline along with Microsoft's, it should still give RIM a better starting position with BlackBerry 10 than Windows Phone 8, especially when you note that a good portion of that share is a zealous core of BlackBerry enthusiasts. BlackBerry 10 looks to be the modern, consumer-centric version of the BlackBerry that can take it to the next level.
If RIM can get developers busy working on apps for BlackBerry 10 now, it can jump-start the ecosystem that is so important for success. If BlackBerry 10 incorporates the ability to run Android apps as the PlayBook currently does, RIM would even have a tremendous advantage. As noted, the Microsoft decision to reboot the Windows Phone app situation works to RIM's favor as it helps wipe out the app lead it would otherwise enjoy.
It is no sure thing that RIM will survive its crisis, giving BlackBerry 10 a decent chance for success. No question the task ahead for RIM is monumental. If it can survive long enough, don't be surprised if BlackBerry 10 gives Windows Phone 8 a decent, perhaps impressive run for the money.
If that happens Microsoft can only blame itself for the decision to throw away a lot of its work on Windows Phone to start over with Windows Phone 8. To quote Thurrott, "is time running out for Windows Phone"?