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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Why the New BlackBerry Is Worth a Look

Remember the BlackBerry? RIM is hoping a new operating system will help get the brand back into your hands.

Flickr photo courtesy of the Office of the Maryland Governor
Remember the BlackBerry? RIM is hoping a new operating system will help get the brand back into your hands.

By many accounts, the BlackBerry is dead in the water--and it has been for some time. Yet, for all the hype surrounding Samsung's domination in the smartphone wars, and the simple fact that the iPhone 5 is still the top dog for usability and app selection, it is possible that Research in Motion (maker of the BlackBerry) might actually rebound.

Here's the most compelling reason why: The BlackBerry 10 operating system might be worth the wait. Few have had a chance to try out the new OS, which is rumored to debut within the next 60 days. And, it's unclear whether phones running the new OS will be able to compete with high-end models like the Samsung Galaxy SIII. Yet, some of the new BlackBerry 10 features do look impressive, especially for business users.

The Features

One useful feature is that the new OS has two modes, one for work and one for personal use. That's a nod to the reality of business today--we tend to buy our own phones and then use them at work, rather than use a company-issued phone. With a quick flick from work to personal, you'll see a different array of apps. You might have apps for work related to projects, managing your staff, and keeping up on business news. Then, you can switch to a view that only shows Pandora, a few games, and your personal Facebook account.

Another perk is that RIM seems to be serious about improving the mobile browser. We'll have to wait and see what the actual test results look like for speed, but there's an interesting feature for sharing what you find online. BlackBerry 10 can learn that you normally share by email or on Facebook, and then make that the default option automatically. I like how RIM is embracing adaptability to do some of the thinking for consumers.

The screen captures of the new software keyboard make me think RIM might finally have a winner in terms of replacing the thumbpad. It looks crisp and well-designed, with large enough keys for fast typing. Once again, the OS adapts to your typing to guess words on the fly and correct your common typos.

Will It Be Enough?

Clearly, RIM has a lot of work to do. Companies of all sizes are switching to more modern phones. Yet, there is a legion of BlackBerry fans out there. (I know, because I get the emails from them on a weekly basis.) Many companies have locked into contracts for BlackBerry Enterprise Server and are biding their time until a new model comes out that actually makes sense for deployment. RIM has a good track record in terms of rock-solid business security and lightning-fast push email delivery.

What could get in the way? Usability problems and lack of apps in the BlackBerry store could be lethal. If BlackBerry 10 ships with a plethora of user interface problems and bugs (say, apps that crash or cause confusion), and without the main headliners like Skype and Evernote, then this new OS could just be another whimper from RIM's corner. Stay tuned.