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BlackBerry crosses starting line with Z10

Company drops RIM name and produces high impact launch, but Apple-like devices have tough job to stand out long-term


Published: 31 January, 2013

READ MORE: Research In Motion | OS | BlackBerry | Handset

RIM has heard so many times that this was a make-or-break launch, and it rose to the occasion in terms of build-up and the event itself, even springing the surprise of rebranding itself entirely as BlackBerry. The actual unveiling of BlackBerry 10 and its first supporting smartphones was glitzy and designed to inspire confidence as well as attract headlines. However, the devices, while they certainly brought the vendor back from the doldrums of the PlayBook into the top tier again, were hardly stunning enough to create an instant turnaround, especially with a platform that still needs a lot more maturity and applications. It will be a tough battle to chip away at the Android/iOS axis, and the Z10 and Q10 are respectable first shots, but will need both immediate sales success and rapid follow-ups to keep Apple and Samsung awake at night.

CEO Thorsten Heins got his 'Steve Jobs moment' and showed off two BB10 devices - the all-touch Z10 and the touch/Qwerty Q10 - as well as the new company identity. "We have reinvented this company, and we wanted to reflect this in our brand," he said.

While gadget blogs will spend many hours mulling over the specs of the two handsets, in reality no set of physical features would ever be enough to set BlackBerry apart from its rivals. The hardware is at the high end of the smartphone segment, but that was a given - only Apple can turn out devices lacking some of the latest hardware and still score a home run. The user experience supported by BB10 will be the key, because that is where the differentiation lies, and BlackBerry has the difficult balance to strike between features popular with its base, and new ones to attract the attention of Android or iOS owners.

The specific services chosen to suggest the delights of the platform beneath were BlackBerry Balance and BlackBerry Hub. The first is genuinely interesting and shows the vendor appealing to the still substantial remnants of its corporate heartland with a feature that enables users to have two separate profiles - work and personal - on one handset, with the corporate IT department able to manage and secure the former. Such capabilities will be essential in the world of BYOD, but nobody has implemented them as smoothly as BlackBerry.

The second is geared to the other area where BlackBerry feels it has natural talents, the social networker. While it may have gone too far in pursuing consumers a few years ago, alienating some of its enterprise bedrock, it did attract a large youth following for BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and this has helped build significant bases in large emerging economies, notably Indonesia. The firm has always said its key technology, developed for highly efficient, network-friendly push email, was also well suited to constant social updating and IM. Hub provides integrated contacts and social net support, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn - so far so ordinary, but it really lies at the heart of the OS and taps into BlackBerry's famous messaging. Messages and updates can be read and posted without the need to leave the Hub, and contact information stored in any app can be viewed from one place.

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