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Monday, June 13, 2011

BlackBerry OS 7 Is a Step Sideways, Not Forward

Research in Motion (RIM) took the wraps off the successor to BlackBerry OS 6 yesterday. For some reason, the company decided to call to BlackBerry OS 7, even though it’s much more like OS 6.5. It has some nice new features, but it’s not a major upgrade — and this is a time that RIM can’t rest on its laurels.
BlackBerryRIM is in an odd situation. It is currently one of the top sellers of smartphones, but many experts think that it has been surpassed by the iPhone and the Android OS not just technologically but also in terms of customer awareness. Most of what’s keeping it afloat is the conservatism of IT managers, who like BlackBerry as a safe choice. Consumers, on the other hand, are turning to devices that are more oriented toward them and therefore more fun. This is what’s pushing the iOS and Android past BlackBerry.

Up By Its Bootstraps
But because RIM is still doing well, it has an opportunity to rescue itself. Doing this is going to require dumping the tired old BlackBerry OS and going with something more powerful. The good news is that the company is already doing this — it’s switching to a new operating system based on QNX, the same OS that runs on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. The bad news is that this transition is taking a long time.

RIM said it was starting this move last fall, and information leaking out of the company says the QNX-based version of the BlackBerry OS is going to come out in 2012. So the change is going to take about two years, which isn’t bad, but could be worse. In fact, it still can be worse, if RIM doesn’t buckle down and ends up having to push the release back to 2013.

Take a look at Palm, Inc. if you want a good example of how this process can go wrong. Early last decade, this company was on top of the PDA world. But it ran into a snag: the Palm OS was out of date and needed to be replaced. Thanks to several false starts, it took about seven years to come up with the webOS. As a result of this painfully long delay, a once powerful company has become a shadow of its former self. This could happen to RIM too, if it doesn’t buckle down and make the transition to a more advanced operating system.

What a Difference a Version Makes
BlackBerry OS 6 was a significant change over its predecessor. It brought an array of new features, most notably a web browser that people were actually willing to use.
The new BlackBerry OS 7 is going to be a much smaller change. RIM has further improved the web browser, added voice searching, and is including a system designed to keep the secure corporate information on BlackBerry smartphones away from the consumer-oriented apps like Facebook. Nice, but hardly impressive.

The QNX-based version will include some really major changes, like support for running Android apps and an Adobe Flash player. These features are already part of the PlayBook, or will be soon, but smartphone users are going to have to wait another year for them.

Is BlackBerry OS 8 going to save RIM?: I don’t know — the competition from Google and Apple is fierce. But getting a much more powerful operating system out as soon as possible is a requirement if it hopes to have any chance at all.

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