RIM’s BlackBerry 10 Announcement Is a Tease, and That’s Okay

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BlackBerry 10 gets previewed at the BlackBerry World conference in Orlando on May 1, 2012

BlackBerry maker RIM isn’t just holding a conference in Orlando this week — it’s holding two of ’em, BlackBerry World and BlackBerry Jam. The big news is that CEO Thorsten Heins officially unveiled BlackBerry 10, the company’s radically new operating system, at today’s keynote.

Except that what he did fell short of an unveiling. In a tweet, RIM called today’s news “a hint of what’s to come,” and “hint” feels about right for what the company has disclosed so far. It’s teasing rather than spilling its guts. Even the alpha test BlackBerry 10 phones that it’s handing out to BlackBerry Jam attendees have a version of the software that’s missing much of the stuff that would let you form an opinion of it. (Here’s a look at the alpha unit from Dieter Bohn of the Verge.)

In Orlando, RIM showed this BlackBerry 10 video sneak peek:


Pretty slick! But we already know that RIM is good at making slick concept videos for unreleased products. Here’s a 2010 clip for BlackBerry 6:


And here’s another, also from 2010, for the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet:


When BlackBerry 6 and the PlayBook came out, they didn’t remotely live up to the polished pizzazz of the preview videos; that’s part of why RIM is in trouble, and why BlackBerry 10 will determine if the company’s going to sink into irrelevance or turn its fortunes around.

I’m not attending RIM’s events this week, but I’ve drawn two tentative conclusions after following the news from afar:

  • It looks as if RIM is trying to build a touchscreen virtual keyboard that is, in its own way, as much of a killer feature as the original BlackBerry physical keyboard was back in the 1990s. We can’t tell from the video if they’ve pulled that off, but it sounds like a smart idea to me.
  • RIM is still saying that BlackBerry 10 devices will ship in 2012. That gives it just eight months to wrap them up — and more like six months if it wants them to be ready for the holiday season, which it does. I hope that the software is further along than it looks, and that RIM doesn’t ship it until it’s as close to rock-solid as any almost-all-new operating system can be. (Most of the company’s products of the past few years have arrived in half-baked form at best.)

As a person who’s curious about new smartphones in general and RIM’s fate in particular, I’m eager to learn more about BlackBerry 10 and the devices which will run it. But I’d rather see the company underpromise and overdeliver than spend much time trying to get customers riled up about an unreleased product. (Developers are different — RIM needs them to start thinking about BlackBerry 10 apps now, and it’s making a $10,000 promise to help reel them in.)

So if RIM is still being stingy with details on the new software, that’s fine. Hype won’t help the company recover; only great phones will do the trick. Which is why the only opinions that truly matter are the ones that real businesspeople and consumers will form once next-generation BlackBerrys go on sale. Let’s see what they think.