So help me, I want to be excited about BlackBerry 10, the all-new operating system powering the BlackBerry handsets which are now supposed to show up in the first quarter of 2013.
I was keeping an open mind about it almost a year ago when I attended RIM’s last Bay Area developer conference. When RIM announced in June that it was delaying the first devices (again) until 2013, I praised that decision. Of course, it’s dangerous to get excited about products which haven’t shipped yet. But it’s also pointless to reflexively dismiss them.
So I attended this morning’s opening keynote at RIM’s BlackBerry Jam conference in Silicon Valley…well, not prepared to be wowed, but willing to be wowed. With 2013 coming along so quickly, I thought it was possible that RIM would do a big reveal of its new platform in a manner that suddenly made everything make sense.
It didn’t. I’m not taking even that as definitive proof that BB10 will be a big disappointment: RIM doesn’t seem to know how to explain itself, its vision and its products in a concise, coherent fashion, and it’s possible that it did a poor job of putting BB10 into the best possible light this morning.
I mean, you know a company has communications issues when a crucial event includes something like this:
It’s true that the keynote did include some good stuff. Quite a bit of good stuff, actually.
It included the most demonstrations of new functionality of any BB10-related event to date, including something called Peek, which lets you slide back an app to see notifications and other stuff. Peek looks nicely done. RIM also demoed Facebook and Foursquare for BB10, and confirmed that Twitter, LinkedIn, WebEx and other apps will be coming to the platform.
And the company is working hard to get developers feeling good about writing BB10 apps — it’s offering a guarantee that “qualifying” apps accepted by the BlackBerry App World will make at least $10,000 — which is the primary purpose of a conference like this.
But for all my willingness to be impressed by BB10, little warning alarms went off in my head about once every five minutes during the two-hour-plus keynote:
- I get that this event is for developers, not consumers. But it’s still deeply worrying that the keynote didn’t reveal anything so compelling that it would lead a garden-variety consumer or business end-user to choose a BlackBerry 10 device over an iPhone or an Android phone. (Peek looks neat, but it doesn’t remotely counterbalance all of the many existing reasons to pick a competing platform.)
- Speaking of Peek, we saw it at work during multiple live demos. But the main Peek presentation was done with static slides, not a working phone. Why that was, I don’t know — but it can’t be a good sign this late in the game.
- The keynote kept involving words like “astonishing,” “amazing” and “incredible.” They were never applied to anything that was remotely astonishing, amazing or incredible. Actually, they usually seemed to refer to necessary actions RIM is belatedly taking to bring its products up to parity with iOS and Android.
- The RIM folk kept talking about how intuitive and fluid BB10’s interface is, but there were multiple moments when the demo phone appeared not to respond to their gestures. (It never means much when a person responsible for a product makes it look easy during a demo — but when someone fails to do that, it can be an ominous sign.)
- RIM is still describing the new version of the pre-release BB10 software it’s releasing to developers as an alpha. I don’t want to quibble over terminology, but if the first BlackBerry 10 devices are going to show up early in 2013, the operating system needs to progress to beta state.
The keynote didn’t make BlackBerry 10 look bad, exactly. It could be quite good. But with iOS and Android so deeply entrenched, it’s hard to imagine a scenario under which good enough is going to be good enough.