BlackBerry OS10: Strange Negativity

February 1, 2013

I was at the BlackBerry event, and was very impressed. But I seem to be in the minority, among tech journalists.

RiM (now BlackBerry Inc.) has done just about everything right. They hired Alicia Keyes, instead of, say, Lady Gaga. They based their new OS10 heavily on the PlayBook OS, arguably the nicest mobile OS out there. More importantly, I got a powerful sense of vitality and creativity from all their people. This is a company that’s got a lot of good ideas, that’s listening to its customers. BlackBerry isn’t “innovating” purely for the sake of being different. It’s looking at what’s out there, and trying to do better. That used to be the recipe for success.

And yet, most reviews have been enormously skeptical. With the needlessly alien Windows Phone, it was all “looks very promising,” or “has some great features.” Nothing about a steep learning curve… With the comfortable, discoverable BB10, the learning curve is “steep” merely because there’s no Home button. There are “many flaws,” and “no apps.” I don’t recall a single WinPhone story harping on about the lack of apps, certainly not to this extent. Were people expecting a new OS to ship with 2 million apps? Is that where the bar is set? Are we really that averse to change, to competition?

A couple of random examples. (Google will happily barf up many more.)

“Some icons, in fact, seem downright amateur…”

“But, tragically, there’s really nothing to love.”

“Nothing to love”…? Really? This describes some other gadget than the one I’ve been playing with.

I suspect it’s down to three things: 1) journalists decided long before the BB10 launch that it was time to write off BlackBerry, and they’re now reluctant to change their minds; 2) journalists have a lot of pent-up negativity they’ve failed to use on Apple and Microsoft, and now sense it’s okay to do a mass vent on BlackBerry; 3) journalists have been programmed to respond to ‘innovation,’ even when it’s counterproductive change-for-the-sake-of-change.

There are exceptions, of course. CrackBerry.com, the dedicated BlackBerry site, is quite fair in praising the good and putting the rough edges in perspective. And the Toronto Globe & Mail is reasonably balanced, though tending at times to damn the new BlackBerry with faint praise. (“Apple’s phone seems more crisp and bright…”)

Funny thing is, I don’t think it will matter. At the launch event, I sat in a vast hall full of people cheering like Apple fans at a Jobs revival. I think long-time BB users will jump on this new generation of product, and will not be disappointed. That will be enough to kick-start a slow but steady recovery.

I also think BB10 is an option the market really needs. It fills a gap that the other competitors have been amazingly slow to address: the more ‘serious’ business and enterprise user. The iPhone is almost perfectly conceived to thumb its nose at that market. Android seems to merely ignore it. Microsoft, to its credit, is definitely going after the enterprise segment. But with a product that’s ‘innovative’ in the worst way. Conservative businesses users who find the BB10 learning curve too steep are surely going to faint dead away when presented with a screen full of Live Tiles.

I don’t expect BlackBerry to take over the world from iOS and Android. But I do expect the company to still be in the fray a year from now, and to be shipping better and better products. I also expect that this will be a positive influence on the other competitors, much as the introduction of the iPhone goosed the underachieving cell-phone world into action a few years back.