BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) is planning a multi-pronged approach to bounce back in the mobile device market, with the upcoming BlackBerry 10 platform addressing both smartphones and tablets, a concerted push to attract developer efforts, and a move to position itself as the leading enterprise mobility provider by expanding its back-end support to manage other devices such as the iPad.
At its recent BlackBerry World conference in Florida, RIM demonstrated some of the features of its upcoming BlackBerry 10 platform, including new support for typing input on a touchscreen device, along with beta versions of developer toolkits to help kick-start the ecosystem ahead of the BlackBerry 10 launch later this year.
However, RIM actually gave away surprisingly little about its upcoming platform. The Developer Alpha handset that it presented to attendees is actually running a modified version of its PlayBook operating system designed purely to provide access to the development tools and start priming the application pump before BlackBerry 10 is officially launched.
RIM also claimed that the first production BlackBerry 10 devices will not resemble the Developer Alpha device, so there is still no clear picture of what the company is going to put up to compete against the iPhone and iPad, not to mention the constant flood of new Android devices.
Reaction among developer attendees has so far been enthusiastic, contrasting with the reportedly cool reception that has come from RIM investors, who seem to have been hoping for more impressive news from the company at this stage of the game.
Part of RIM's troubles seem to have as much to do with public perception as with reality, at least if you listen to the firm's own version of what is happening in the market.
Speaking at BlackBerry World, chief executive Thorsten Heins berated some of the press for presenting a jaundiced view of RIM's market share and the constant drip-drip of pessimism about the company's future prospects.
The BlackBerry platform is often portrayed as haemorrhaging support from both users and developers, he said, but claimed that support is actually rock solid among corporate users and pointed to the rapidly growing number of application submissions to its App World online store.
Nevertheless, perceptions can be damaging, especially if BlackBerry is viewed as a less attractive platform by end users, and in particular when RIM is contending with the enormous momentum that has built up behind the Apple brand in the consumer space.
"The tide has turned against RIM because their products have not seemed cutting edge of late, which is symptomatic of the fact they are up against aggressive rivals with much bigger budgets," said Ovum principal analyst for devices and platforms, Tony Cripps.
This presents a dilemma for RIM, as it needs the upcoming BlackBerry 10 platform to be both exciting enough for end users to want to choose the resulting devices, while also keeping the enterprise features and credibility that made BlackBerry the darling of the corporate world in the first place.
BlackBerry World showed that RIM is trying hard to address these issues, firstly by building BlackBerry 10 on the foundations of QNX, a proven real-time operating system that drives critical infrastructure such as Cisco internet routers, and secondly by providing the developer tools to enable programmers to harness that power to deliver compelling games as well as business applications.
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