Back in BlackBerry

Feb 04 2013, 11:46 IST
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SummaryWith a brand-new smartphone—and a new brand—BlackBerry (neé Research in Motion) has embarked on a critical reboot.

If BlackBerry can keep its remaining corporate and government customers in the fold, it has a path to elbow its way into the consumer market—just like the good old days

John C Abell

With a brand-new smartphone—and a new brand—BlackBerry (neé Research in Motion) has embarked on a critical reboot aimed at restoring the fortunes of the company that sparked the mobile revolution.

RIM has been left for dead. For years it hasn’t been able to shake off the stink of irrelevance as the iPhone proved that apps were more important than a physical keyboard, and that mobile “push” e-mail wasn’t rocket science. It endured brand-damaging outages to its private network while competitors crowed that their reliance on a public network was far more stable.

Now the company is reinventing itself in a last-ditch effort to survive. In a press conference yesterday, it announced that it had changed its corporate name to “BlackBerry” to better identify with its iconic product. Meanwhile, it has dramatically upgraded that product after a two-year effort that resulted in new phones designed from scratch and powered by what would be a major mobile operating system: QNX.

BlackBerry’s new smartphones, the multi-touch Z10 and the Q10—which retains that keyboard some people still swear by—may be the company’s last best hope. I’ve had the Z10 for only a few hours, but if anything can rekindle our romance with RIM, this is it. These BB10 phones are a gambit—not a gamble. (I’ll be doing a full “Go Bag” review with the road warrior in mind in the coming weeks).

Most of the attention is being heaped on the Z10, as demand for smartphones with physical keyboards is the exception rather than the rule. If it manages to make a dent in a world now run by Apple and Samsung—which together had 51% of the world’s smartphone market share in the last quarter of 2012—it will mark one of the great turnaround tales in the history of tech, comparable even to Apple’s Phoenix-like rise from the ashes in the late 1990s.

Not so long ago, Research in Motion ruled the world. I owned one of its first devices, a RIM 857, which did e-mail like nothing else, and just about nothing else. But that device was a vision of the future in the days before smartphones. The “CrackBerry” was a road warrior’s most potent weapon and most impressive coat of arms.

Soon enough, RIM added phone and Web

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