5 Big Reasons Why The New BlackBerry 10 Is an Epic Win

Alicia Keys Joins RIM (Via TechCrunch)

The late Steve Jobs famously once said “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Tapping into that sentiment, Research In Motion (now known as simply, Blackberry) stole a few pages from competitor Apple’s playbook today in what was  one of the best launches by the beleaguered Canadian tech pioneer.

After losing serious market share (and momentum) to Apple, Android smartphone makers like Samsung and even Microsoft Phone, the stakes couldn’t get any bigger for Blackberry’s long-awaited launch of its new flagship device, the BlackBerry 10. Some are calling it their  Hail Mary Pass and over the past couple of weeks, the early buzz has been strong, sending the company’s stock soaring 154 per cent since hitting rock bottom in the fall.

Today’s launch did not disappoint. While not technically groundbreaking, Blackberry did what it needed to do: catch up to its various competitors who’ve leap-frogged the company both in innovation and market share by appealing to three groups it needs to win over to survive: businesses, app developers and the consumer market. Below are five big reasons why the BlackBerry is back in the game and poised to regain (some) traction against its fast-moving counterparts at Apple and Samsung.

1. Solid OS. Blackberry rolled out its new operating system QNX and as a platform, it’s beautiful. Apart from screen elements that have become standard fare on smartphones – lock and home screens, notifications, message displays — the focus on BB10 seems to be on two key elements: one thumb navigation and work-personal balance. As CEO Thorsten Heins and other company execs demonstrated at today’s launch, just about everything in BB10 can be done with one thumb including typing and multi-task swapping between apps in what the company refers to as “flow.” For busy communicators, the new platform places an emphasis on a unified inbox, the “Hub” as Blackberry calls it, where messages from all kind of sources (including BBM, SMS, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and third-party messaging apps like WhatsApp) are all centralized. With so many inbound messages sure to overwhelm most inboxes, BB10 smartly offers a feature called Peek where users can choose what kind of messages they wish to see by swiping across the screen to see which account they are interested in.

The popular BlackBerry Messenger service has also received a long-overdue upgrade, now supporting live video conferencing that rivals Microsoft’s Skype or Apple’s Facetime. Blackberry goes even further, impressively offering screen-sharing like Powerpoint and spreadsheets or personal fare like photos, all in real time on a mobile device.

In a bid to retain business users without going against the growing trend of employees using personal smartphones, BB10 underscores a work-play balance by offering two modes: Personal and Work. Both modes are fully encrypted partitions where the user has full ability to install their own apps without sacrificing privacy to the employers while, in Work mode, corporate IT departments can ensure their company infrastructures are not compromised.  Heins adds there are plans to update all Playbooks with the new BB10 operating system.

2. Two big, beautiful models. The BlackBerry 10 comes in two flavors: the Z10 with a 4.2-inch screen and virtual keyboard and the Q10 for diehards who demand the company’s world-class physical keyboard experience. Both phones offer features that are standard with modern smartphones: WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, ambient light sensor, gyroscope, magnetometer, GPS, NFC and both front- and rear-facing cameras. The latter is 8 megapixels and capable of shooting 1080p HD video while the front-facing camera offers a novel 720p HD resolution. The cameras are supported by Instagramish filters and a timeshift photo editing feature that allows shooters to choose a specific frame from when a photograph is taken (think open versus blinked eyes).

Both phones also come equipped with 16 GB of internal storage which can be expanded via microSD cards. Powered by a 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus chip, apps should blaze pretty quickly on these new devices.

While longtime BB users will likely prefer the physical keyboard, the virtual keyboard is modelled after the Bold handsets and features the ability to “write without typing,” as Heins described it during today’s launch. Users can basically flick letters and words to the screen (in keeping with the one-thumb rule characterizing the new interface). Naturally the keyboard fixes typos and spacing issues but, as iPhone and Android users know, auto-correction varies between a blessing and a curse, depending on personal taste.

3. Encouraging ecosystem. Regardless of how nice a smartphone is, success is almost entirely based on availability of software. With more than 700,000 programs available in Apple’s App Store — and Google Play quickly narrowing the gap with more than 675,000 applications, Blackberry has a huge hill that can only be climbed if app developers see a customer base/revenue opportunity worth the investment. To jumpstart momentum, BlackBerry App World has received a makeover and boasts 70,000 apps at launch. While that number falls way behind its competitors, it includes popular apps like Skype, WhatsApp, SAP, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon Kindle and Angry Birds. In fact, App World includes a healthy presence of games, underscoring the company’s desire to capture more mobile consumer market share.

4. Hard, near launch date. While BlackBerry has self-inflicted serious damage to itself with missed and disastrously delayed product launches, the company again stole a tactic from Apple by announcing a hard launch date that, in Canada at least, is less than a week away. The keyboard-less Z10  go on sale on Feb. 5 and similar dates around the world while the B10 model with a physical keyboard goes on sale in April. Pre-orders are available online immediately. While pricing varies according to carriers, Heins notes consumers will be able to get the new devices for roughly $149 under three-year contracts. No word on availability on unsubsidized, unlocked models.

5. One more thing. Again borrowing from Jobs, Heins made a secret announcement involved a popular recording artist, announcing the company’s new Global Creative Director: singer Alicia Keys. Looking smart onstage in business attire, the self-confessed longtime BlackBerry user humorously admitted, “I was in a long-term relationship with BlackBerry but kinda noticed new hot things in the gym … then you called and told me you were working out. And now we’re exclusively dating again.” The multi-Grammy winner and mom adds she will  be working closely with developers, designers and entertainment industry folks.

Today’s launch was a solid touchdown for Blackberry but somewhere in Cupertino, Tim Cook is running down the clock.