Blackberry OS 6.0 – Is it enough?

There have been numerous leaked videos of the upcoming Blackberry 9800 slider.  The device brings a new form factor to the Blackberry, but most importantly incorporates a brand new OS, 6.0.  The combination of 6.0 and the 9800’s touch screen mimics the experience found in competing phones running Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, but is it enough?

I have blogged before about how I believe that RIM has to re-write their OS to become competitive in the rapidly changing and multimedia-centric smartphone market.  OS 6.0 represents RIM’s strongest move yet in this direction, but is still based on their traditional Java OS.  Crackberry.com has links to sample videos of the new phone/OS combination in the links below.  (Note: that some of these videos have been removed, and most can be found here.)

These videos show an impressive improvement in Blackberry functionality and features, but I am not convinced it is enough.  If you look at the market, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android battle on hardware and software features.  They are constantly trying one-up each other with enhancements like video-conferencing (iPhone) or wireless hotspot (Android).  RIM is behind on touchscreen functionality and 6.0 is a catch up release for them.  It breaks no new ground but rather brings RIM a touch interface that is similar to what Android and iOS have been offering since inception.  Where is the innovation in the platform?

I continue to believe that RIM must do something to gain a competitive edge.  Their story of “we are best for email and business” still rings true, but is being aggressively attacked by Apple and Android who continue to roll out enterprise features.  In my opinion, the problem for RIM is that they are tied to an outdated Java-based OS that was not designed for today’s advanced smartphones.  It was architected when email was cutting edge and no one considered things like touch interfaces or multimedia content.  I believe that it is time for a complete rewrite of RIM’s OS to compete more effectively with the other platforms.

Fortunately, RIM has some time.  The latest market share research suggests that they have 42% market share as compared to 25% for Apple and 9% for Google/Android.  However, these numbers were before the iPhone 4 release and you would imagine Apple’s share increasing.  The challenge is that as customers’ contracts expire, they will look at other phone options and the shortcomings of the RIM offerings may drive a platform switch.

In summary, RIM has to do something and I believe that OS 6.0 is not enough.  Their competitors are innovating faster and RIM must find a way to at least maintain a parity if not a leadership positioning.  I believe that their current software architecture is holding them back and must be replaced.  Without a radical change, RIM is destined to see declining market share as the competition entices their consumers.

Disclosure: I am a Blackberry user and have owned 3 BB’s over the last 6 years.  They have worked reliably and consistently, but I am frustrated with RIM’s lack of innovation.

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7 thoughts on “Blackberry OS 6.0 – Is it enough?”

  1. You are right in noticing what RIM doesn’t seem to have noticed: that most people with smartphone experience outside the Blackberry would look at the OS leaks, and go, “What? This is it? Meh!”

    Back in the day, the BB WAS the device to have if email was priority #1.

    That is no longer the case.

    Right now, even the much maligned, and very dead KIN had such a great email experience that it puts these leaked pics to shame.

    RIM needs to do more.

    Or package itself for sale.

    1. John, thank you for your comment. We are in agreement, although I am not convinced that the Kin’s email experience matched that on the BB. That said, BB needs to make big changes and 6.0 is not enough.

  2. I would not say that RIM is failing per se. I think their strategic view hasn’t changed due to the amount of organizations that still hand out blackberry’s to their employees.

    Most companies only want employees to access email and not surf the web and/or facebook on the company network or dime.

    I think RIM should come out with a line of phones that are better designed for “commercial” use.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I think that the problem is that users see all the advancements in smartphones and look at their Blackberries and ask, “why can’t my phone do that?”. Corporate IT departments may want to limit some features, but the bar has been raised for basic feature set and RIM is lacking.

  3. Hi Jay,

    (Disclosure: I have both a supplier and consumer relationship with RIM & Apple)

    I agree with the trends you describe above, but am not sure about your proposed solution. JVM and hardware improvements are constantly improving performance of RIM’s devices. Additionally, the higher-level programming abstraction of Java actually provides even more opportunity for RIM & 3rd-party innovation.

    Better multi-media, social media integration and a 1st class browsing experience are table stakes in the game today. RIM’s combination of that in OS6 plus vastly superior corp Email integration helps them defend their turf.

    IMO – it’s all about the App Store. Specifically, creating a rich & rewarding developer experience to prime the pump and offer BB users the same outstanding App experience as Apple does for the iPhone / iPad.

    That’s a lot easier said than done, but if RIM executes on that, they will return to taking share.

    1. Val,

      Thank you for your comment. Your insights are appreciated. I think that we are in agreement that the table stakes have changed in the world of smartphones and that advanced features are a requirement.

      I disagree with you about Java. I believe that RIM’s legacy codebase has limited their ability to implement some of the newest features. For example, the original Storm and even the Storm 2 had very mixed reviews due to an inconsistent experience. It also irks me is that reboots are still required whenever you remove an application, and that active applications cannot be stored on a memory card. These are major platform limitations.

      Finally, your point about the App Store is a very good one. RIM’s store is has fewer applications than the alternatives from Apple and Android. (RIM – >7,000 apps, Android >50,000 apps, Apple >200,000 apps) A limiting factor is the difficulty in developing for RIM’s Java platform. Obviously they could fix this with an improved development kit, but I think that this is another factor that can be blamed in their Java environment.

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