BlackBerry Looking For Appy Development

by , May 2, 2012, 7:51 AM
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A drastic situation calls for uncommon measures, RIM has decided, so with its BlackBerry’s market share eroding and faith in the company’s ability to regain its prestige status among business users slipping, its new leadership team is resorting to a ploy more usually seen with juicer demonstrations at big-box stores: It’s giving away “alpha” versions of a BlackBerry 10 device that is slated to roll out sometime in the semi-near future.

“The reason why we’re doing this -- which is unprecedented for us, and it’s quite uncommon in the industry -- is because we want to create a wave of application support behind the new BlackBerrys before we bring them to market,” Alec Saunders, the company’s vp of developer relations, tells the New York Times. “If we launch without applications, well, it will be slow.”

Response to the device at the company’s BlackBerry World 2012 conference in Orlando appears to have been mixed, according to several accounts. CEO Thorsten Heins “seemed to struggle at times to rally his audience” in his keynote writes the Wall Street Journal’s Will Connor. “Applause was mild as he walked through a few features on the prototype. Other features, including predictive touch-screen typing features and a camera tool that allows users to select photos taken split-seconds apart to edit pictures, drew a heartier response.”

One notable departure with past devices is that the BlackBerry 10 prototype lacks a physical keyboard entirely. Its screen is larger than the Apple iPhone’s but smaller than some Android units.

“Its virtual keyboard aims to be as fast as the physical keys of yesteryear’s BlackBerry phones, with auto-complete suggestions that appear directly above the letters you might type,” writes Time’s Jared Newman approvingly. “Its built-in camera captures a handful of shots before you snap the shutter, improving your odds of getting the perfect photo. When a phone call comes in, the contact name swoops down in front of the app you’re using, so you can answer or dismiss the call with a flick of your thumb.”

The Journal is offering a slide show of BlackBerrys from the past decade that perhaps will provide viewers with a sense of nostalgic recall of power breakfasts in the same way that the playing of Golden Oldies provokes such personal recollections as a great road trip or a stolen kiss. Perhaps not.

“While some analysts said the prototype looked like it held promise, many investors were disappointed with the lack of details from the company about the actual phone -- including a specific launch date,” Connor reports. 

Phill Ryu, CEO of Impending, which makes a to-do list app called Clear, is just about crossing off the device. “If this is a horse race, RIM is two laps behind and has a lame leg,” he tells the Times’ Ian Austen and Brian X. Chen. But Nick Barnett, CEO at Refresh Mobile, is working on about 10 new apps for the BlackBerry 10 and says, “It’s actually quite nice.” 

Android accounted for 51% of the domestic smartphone market during the three-month period ending in March, Rachel King reports on ZDNet. “In second place, Apple’s iOS is doing well enough at 30.7% with a 1.1% gain. But third-place RIM dropped again, plummeting by as much as Android gained at a 3.7% difference.” Microsoft’s Windows Phone is in fourth place and Symbian in fifth. 

Time’s Newman says that “the tech industry and tech press have been tough on RIM lately, but BlackBerry 10 has piqued their interest,” and he cites several positive stories of recent vintage including CNet’s Marguerite Reardon’s “Is RIM Getting Its Mojo Back with BlackBerry 10?” 

Among other things, Reardon points out that BlackBerry has more than 77 million existing customers. “And its reach is global. RIM says that its customers are in 164 markets and territories worldwide. And it has plans to roll out devices in additional countries.”

But its stock “tanked” in after-market trading yesterday following Heins' demonstration at the company's annual conference, Richi Jennings reports in Computerworld.

“BlackBerry is still a powerful brand that resonates with many,” Zack Whittaker wrote on ZDNet last Friday in a piece quoting the long-term optimistic view of value investor Prem Watsa while urging RIM to get the new device “out the door” post-haste.

“Despite a handful of high-profile security flubs, it is still largely trusted. But its failure to keep up with customer tastes has caused the company to stumble in the market -- and it’s seen that way,” Whittaker writes.

Reputation, like battery life, indeed has its limits.

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