If Research In Motion is going to set the world on fire, the match needs to be lit on Wednesday. BlackBerry 10, RIM’s much-anticipated next-generation mobile operating system, is set to be unveiled at several launch events around the world on January 30, 2013, including the featured keynote at Pier 36 in New York City.
The big question, not likely to be answered at the launch event, unfortunately, is whether or not BlackBerry 10 will be RIM’s saving grace.
Yes, we will finally see the full features of BlackBerry 10. We (the assembled Technorati) will give our immediate reactions and decide whether or not either of the two new devices presented is worth your hard earned money and attention. These opinions will go a long way in creating the short-term consumer and business opinion of the viability of BlackBerry 10.
But RIM’s ultimate success (or lack thereof) with BlackBerry 10 rests not on the initial opinions of overwrought tech journalist. There are four key factors that will determine whether RIM has a chance to rebuild its company and market share:
1. Reacquiring The Enterprise Base
RIM made its money off the enterprise, starting in the C-suite and working its way to regular employees. Only later did it it fully address the consumer market. Every foundation needs have a bedrock to build upon and for RIM, that still has to be the enterprise and government.
As such, RIM has seeded BlackBerry 10 to 120 select enterprise and government customers - including 64 of the Fortune 500 companies - with its Technical Preview Program for Enterprise. RIM also refreshed the BlackBerry Enterprise Server and has “Workplace Apps” ready for BB 10. Its BlackBerry Balance feature will be able to cordon off personal data and workplace data from each other on the device. BlackBerry 10 (and BES 10) also have received FIPS 140-2 security certification ahead of launch.
2. Robust App Ecosystem
Like it or not, apps sell smartphones. RIM has been working very hard through the last year to create a dynamic app ecosystem. It had a BlackBerry Jam World Tour designed to drum up developer interest and has incentivized developers by offering $10,000 in guaranteed revenue if an app can make at least $1,000.
“One key driver for this is the ability to build up an ecosystem of compelling applications available for download (something they were not able to do with the Playbook launch),” said Scott Snyder, president and co-founder of app-maker Mobiquity. “Because RIM architected the BB 10 operating system to be open, there are APIs and Java-based toolsets that will make porting Android apps to BB 10 fairly easy, which could be a major help given they are unlikely to ever match the 500,000+ apps in Google Play.”
On Monday, RIM announced that its app store, BlackBerry World, will have an “extensive catalogue of songs, latest movies and TV shows” upon launch of BlackBerry 10. RIM has said that 70,000 apps will be available to BB 10 when it is released.
The key here is not app quantity, though, it's app quality. When people buy new smartphones, they download their go-to apps for music, video, social networking, productivity, etc. RIM needs to make sure that popular, highly desired apps like Spotify, a good Facebook app (preferably built by Facebook, not RIM), Twitter, Netflix, Hulu Plus and the like are readily available at launch. Otherwise, users may find the BlackBerry 10 experience lacking no matter how good the operating system itself may be.
Companies like ooVoo and BitTorrent have announced apps that will be available for BlackBerry 10. That is a good start, but RIM needs to make sure that most of the heavy hitters get involved.
3. Effective Distribution
A litany of quality smartphones have died on the market because they were exclusively available via one carrier or another. The HTC One X and Nokia Lumia 900/920 are the poster children of the dangers of limited distribution.
RIM needs to take a page out of the Samsung playbook and make BlackBerry 10 devices on every carrier it possibly can. So far the company has shown every indication that it will do just that. RIM has been testing BB 10 with hundreds of worldwide carriers since the fall of 2012 and does not have exclusivity agreements with any of them. The ability for RIM to have multiple smartphones on multiple carriers at multiple price points is key to creating product momentum in both the United States and globally.
4. Quality Experience, Hardware, Industrial Design
The BlackBerry 10 devices cannot look and feel like bricks, the way the Nokia Lumia 920 does. Nor can they be hard to use or have software lags. They need to feel good in your hand (the way a One X or iPhone 5 do). This is Smartphone Manufacturing 101 and RIM cannot afford to fail the course.
Can Research In Motion pull it all off? RIM is still theoretically run by smart people, and so far indications are that it just might be able to make everything work.
Does that mean BlackBerry 10 will ultimately succeed? There are no guarantees even if RIM reaches all the milestones on this roadmap. As Nokia, Motorola, HTC and other manufacturers have already learned, the smartphone market is a hard industry in which to succeed.