I’ve been waiting for this week for about three months since I learned of the final launch date. Research In Motion tonight will take its final stand and attempt to gain relevance in a market told to only consider Android, iOS or Windows Phone. Like Nokia Symbian, RIM’s Blackberry OS has been under fire lately for being too slow to adapt to changes in the modern market and it is in danger of falling out of favour with consumers, in spite of the services that the company offers. Blackberry 10 is RIM’s last chance to scoop up consumer interest – if it doesn’t, the chances of a sale or complete crash within three years are much more likely, even though the company enjoys a large amount of support in many areas outside the United States and its homeland, Canada. Can Thorsten Heins bring the company back to relevance, or will it have to abandon a “burning platform”, as Nokia did? Follow my semi-live launch coverage to find out!
I think… a key part of why this launch could be very successful is because this will hit at the heart of many Nokia fans. The still-born N9, if you remember it, used the swipe-driven Meego operating system designed in conjunction with Intel to offer something remarkably different to anything else on the market. True to form, there is nothing else that looks and handles like Meego. But with the partnership with Microsoft, Nokia threw that opportunity away and Meego now lives on supported in a side-project run by the community.
Two OSes now carry the look and feel of Meego forward, as well as the various ideas it punted as to how phones should be used. That is BB 10 (now that I’ve seen it in action) and Mozilla’s Firefox OS. Both behave very much like Meego and I expect more parallels to be drawn between them once people get to explore the OS more. We’ve now got four distinct modern UI designs (not counting the many Android UI skins made by other manufacturers): Windows Phone with Live Tiles, Apple iOS with a virtual button-based and icon-orientated UI, Android with many similarities to iOS but with its own special effects and finally BB 10, with something that looks a lot like Meego. The future is going to be very interesting.
There was also no mention from Heins about how BIS and BES will change and I expect that’s going to be left to the various cellular operators to decide how they’re going to deal with the loss of flat-rated data. I’m hoping that BlackBerry (previously RIM, must remember that) will subsidise some of the data costs to allow bundles to be added for “free” to contracts, like in 250MB or 500MB sizes. We’ve heard before, from Vodacom itself, that the majority of their users don’t consume more than 150MB for browser activities. I’m hoping that the changes to BIS leave both e-mail, social networking and BBM as unlimited as possible. After all, that’s the whole reason why the BlackBerry brand exploded in South Africa – the pricing of data is exorbitant.
6:20: Heins steps off the stage and that’s it! Tomorrow there’ll be a flurry of hands-on videos and I fully expect the new devices to be snatched up as soon as they’re available.
6:17: She now shows off a motivational video that shows how various creative people around the world will use BB 10 using their BlackBerries to do something special with the features found on the platform. Participants are people like Neil Gaiman (Hi, I’m Neil Gaiman. I write stuff!) and Robert Rodriguez, as well as Keyes herself. Very interesting and nice touch on her part.
6:15: This is kind of like Land Rover hiring Victoria Beckham to design a blingy Evoque as creative design director. We can all see how well that went.
6:13: Man, she’s tiny! She expresses her dismay with previous BB devices in terms of being in a relationship and looking at other guys at the gym (i.e. other phones), but being lured back when the current S.O. improves himself back up to his (its?) former standard. Weird.
6:11: Thorsten personally appointed Alicia Keyes as Blackberry’s Global Creative Director. Wait, what?
6:08: App testing for markets that are currently assessing BB World compatibility stands at 128 countries. Availability in Canada will be February 5th, Arab Emirates will be the 10th, London and America get it tomorrow. South Africa? Possibly by the end of the month we’ll have all three operators throwing their stock at us. Vodacom might be flirting with you within a week.
6:06: All the major record labels, US movie studios and TV channels will have their music, movies and TV shows available to own (presumably also rent) on BB World. I saw thumbnails for Game of Thrones as well as the Walking Dead when they were looking at TV shows. Cool!
6:05: No device rebooting when you install an app!
6:04: So many bloody names being thrown around here. Saw Instagram being mentioned and there’s others like Lonely Planet and even BBC Player.
6:01: Aaaaand the app number is…70, 000 available apps for BB 10 on launch. Probably is a mixture of reworked BB OS7 apps that may have been updated to use the higher resolution. App vendors like Skype, Whatsapp and Rovio have already done their ports and will be available from launch. That’s impressive because app compatibility is something many launches need to address. Hey, there’s some games from EA there too!
6:00: More stuff to absorb here. BB World will see an overhaul and will offer music and things like TV shows and movies straight from the online market. Its similar to how Apple does things with iTunes and how Nokia runs its DRM-free Nokia Music Store.
5:56: The picture editor is also swipe-driven, as you can see by the icons with the arrows showing which gestures you can use to open which photo styles. Very clean and fast, by the looks of things. There’s also a movie editor which uses the same idea but just adds in a timeline UI to put in pictures, music and videos. Probably puts that out as a AVI file, but bitrate and resolution wasn’t mentioned. Probably keeps the source video files in their native res.
5:54: I missed the camera app, but you can take a picture and while the shutter is open, the phone also takes multiple shots so you can look back on them and arrange together a picture that has all the right elements. So if your drunk cousin is looking the other way before you hit the shutter, you can rewind time in the editor and put his head in the right direction. Very cool.
5:52: There’s also BlackBerry Remember, a real-time organiser. It keeps separate activities organised by folders and notes, tasks, voice recordings and HTML links can be put into any folder and will be automatically added along with notifications on your calendar and notification centre.
5:49: The hits keep coming. Here’s BBM screen share – you broadcast what you see on your screen using BBM Video to another user, so they can see what you’re looking at on your screen. Works inside the entire UI and in any app. I can see some uses for that already.
5:47: From within BBM, you can change from a text conversation to BBM Video. It works much like Skype and works on both Wi-Fi and 3G networks.
5:45: I missed the shot, but you can have both personal and company apps running at the same time. The company app is separately running in its own memory space and can crash on its own without affecting anything else, much like how Google Chrome works.
5:43: DamnYouAutocorrect will have to deal with less errors being sent in now. The auto-correct language checker understands context and will auto-correct any language without you having to change said language. It automatically drops in spaces and punctuation if you forget to put it in. Grammar Nazis will be overjoyed.
5:41: The keyboard also gets a makeover. You can have an entire conversation, one-handed, by clicking on word suggestions as you type. Its a lot like other platforms with predictive conversation abilities, similar to Windows Phone. It works much the same way, actually.
5:38: The People Hub gets a big overhaul. Everything you see in the hub is continually updated at certain intervals, allowing you to keep up to date with anything your friends or contacts are going. Emo statuses and pictures just got more real-time.
5:36: Peek allows you to keep up to date with everything without leaving any app or game or video you might be busy with. Swipe up and to the right minimises the current app and shows you the Hub. Hub shows you a lot of stuff without opening individual applications or webpages. Its pretty slick.
5:33: Blackberry Flow is the new way to swipe between apps. Works a lot like how Windows 8 swaps between apps on a tablet.
5:32: Vivek Bhardwa takes to the stage to demonstrate the phones.
5:31: The new models are the Z10 (touch screen) and the Q10 (qwerty keyboard)
5:26: RIM now is officially under the BlackBerry brand, instead of being a parent company with a different name. Meh, nice touch, but the proof is in the pudding. Brand consistency is something close to Heins’ heart, apparently.
5:25: “From the beginning, we knew our decision was risky. Our company was dangerously close to falling flat on its face and we knew that.”
5:23: Heins credits Dan Dodge for bringing BB 10 to the fore and for leading the software team to design the OS from scratch.
5:20: RIM targets BB 10 at people who are hyper-connected to social networks, who want to get things done on the move and to differentiate between the personal and professional lives.
5:20: Heins thanks the employees of RIM for their work during the past year.
5:17: “We’ve definitely been on a journey of transformation.” – Heins. “Being at the helm of RIM has been the best opportunity for me in my career to date.”
5:18: Thorsten Heins takes to the stage. And he doesn’t look or dress like a hippie!
5:15: Crackberry’s Kevin Michaluk is called up to cut off his hair. Kevin famously said that he’d wait until today’s launch to cut off his ponytail.
5:12: “Totally stoked.” That’s probably their favourite word to throw around now.
5:09: There’s a general theme that BB OS 10 is very versatile and many customers look forward to using some of the features on the OS. A lot of the touted things they like to do appear on other platforms, but RIM may have its own take on how things work.
5:08: There’s another run-through of some opinions on Blackberry by various people involved with media and cellular networks all around the world.
5:07: And there’s a quick look at the live launch venues around the world…
5:05: And the webcast starts off with a small overview of some of the things they’ll be announcing today.
5:04: Seems we have a mild delay…
5:00: And… Here we go. Don’t trip up now, RIM.
4:57: And three minutes left, we’re about to begin!
4:48: Topping up my drinks before the launch begins! It may be an hour long, judging from the amount of stuff RIM may have left to announce. We’ve had numerous leaks over the last year, but there might still be more in store.
4:45: Fifteen minutes away now and all operators, barring 8ta, will have the new BB 10 devices available soon after launch. There’s also going to be many pre-paid offerings and we may even see early availability through the Orange SA online store.
4:36: Although, if RIM offers the same kind of data bundles as seen with the iPhone packages from some operators, it would be a moot issue. And I’m guessing that from their user surveys, its possible that they can track that more users use Wi-Fi than the BIS service, giving RIM less reason to keep it up. This also opens the floodgates for operator-specific customisations, which may or may not improve performance for BB 10 users. Maybe there’s an Opera Mini-like service waiting in the wings? Stay tuned to find out.
4:35: And confirmed, BIS and BES will be changed. Flat-rated browsing data will fall away with the BB 10 devices, allowing operators to supply the devices with browsing data themselves, instead of using the international pipe RIM operates. It’ll definitely fix the oversubscription issues that consumers are experiencing, with many complaining about slow browsing speeds. How this affects BBM and e-mails will remain to be seen. RIM has always asserted that its network offers the best encryption standards, so its possible that BBM and e-mails will still go through the Blackberry APN. For other stuff, though, your operator will handle it, which opens the door up for more epensive data price plans for Blackberry users.
4:25: As previously mentioned, there’s a live launch in Johannesburg and RIM’s local marketing peeps are really excited about it. Check out the short vid they posted about the event. We’ve still got half an hour to go!
4:23: There’s also been a lot of whispering as to how BES and BIS will work this time round. RIM may decide to change the way BIS and its cheaper packages work, but removing the single biggest reason why people get Blackberries – uncapped internet and unlimited e-mail – is going to make any of their new phones a hard sell. They’d be fools to do so.
4:12: In addition, there’s also going to be a Z10 sibling featuring the same hardware, but purportedly with a 2.8″ screen and a physical keyboard, same as the excellent one currently found on the much-maligned Bold 9900. Signifying the change to BB 10, RIM might do away with the naming conventions we’ve been used to – Curve, Torch and Bold might be done away with for model numbers, as unlikely as that sounds.
4:08: What do we know about BB10 already? Well, there’s going to be two phones available from the launch almost on the same day in many countries – the full-screened Z10 will be the company’s flagship and features a number of haptic feedback tricks we’ve had from the previous Storm lines to keep you in familiar territory. Its said to be slightly larger than the iPhone 5 but will be as slim. Screen specs and internals? We’ll have to wait for the launch to see.
4:07: Welcome to the coverage! Some nice tunes are currently pumping out over my speakers from the live stream and there seems to be a nice, upbeat feeling all around the internet. RIM used to be a market leader just like Nokia and any announcements the company makes are as scrutinised as Apple’s launches. This is going to be interesting to watch.
The launch takes place at 10:00 EST, which is in about an hour’s time. For those of you who don’t want to follow my coverage, you can watch the live stream from the Blackberry NewsRoom. The live launch takes place all over the world, with the local one currently filling up in Johannesburg (no, I’m not there, sadly). I’ll be updating this article as the launch progresses, so be sure to hit F5 every minute or two if you want to keep up!
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