RIM tantalizes crowd with BB10 demo

ORLANDO – Some 5,000 Research In Motion application developers and partners were wowed Tuesday by the first public demonstration of the capabilities of next-generation BlackBerry 10 operating system.

“This takes us unto new era of computing way beyond smartphones,” declared CEO Thorsten Heins.

Although he cautioned that there are still a few “secrets” RIM is hiding from competitors until its release “later this year,” Heins and company staff showed three capabilities;

–running applications can be layered on top of each other in a staggered way, and pushed aside with a swipe. RIM calls this a glancing gesture;

–the virtual keyboard not only learns what words you prefer when you type, the words it anticipates appear above the letter you hit. If you want the word, flick it up and it appears in the message;

–the biggest crowd pleaser was an aid for the digital camera, which can roll back a few seconds before a photo is snapped to catch subject when their eyes are open.

It was important for Heins and RIM staff to impress the audience, which includes many of the companies corporate and carrier customers, to show that it will soon have a platform that can grab the attention of handset buyers.

RIM has been steadily losing market share to iPhone and Android handset buyers, leaving mobile telecom managers and devlopers in doubt about investing in its future.

One industry analyst said today’s morning keynotes — which included promises from gaming and application development companies to support BB10 – at least accomplished part of that.

“They did what they needed to do today,” said Michael Gartenberg, vice-president of research at Gartner.

“It was a good presentation,” he said of Heins’ first effort in the spotlight after being appointed CEO three months ago. And he acknowledged that the operating system will have features that differentiate it from competitors.

“RIM’s definitely in the game,” he said.

But, he added, “it’s going to take a lot of effort for them to deliver all they showed.”
RIM is using this event to accelerate developer, customer and partner interest in BB10. Starting today, registered developers get a prototype handset to run early versions of their applications on an early version of the operating system. Beta versions of software developer kits were also released. 

To lure app developers further, RIM is throwing money at them in the form of a $10,000 incentive for BB10 certified apps. In addition, developers who return their prototype handsets after BB10 is released will get a working special edition model.

The company also brought out executives from a number of companies to endorse BB10 and say they are preparing applications for it, part of an effort to assure customers that a healthy ecosystem for the new platform will exist when it launches.

Those appearing included officials from Cisco Systems Inc., which is readying its AnyConnect secure client, WebX and Jabber collaboration apps; Citrix, which is developing Receiver; and a number of game developers.

PixelMags, an online content management system for print publications including Conde Nast Traveller, Esquire, GQ and Cosmopolitan, promised that every BB10 user will get 10 minutes free to read anything on its newsstand. Paid subscribers get unlimited reading time and the ability to download content.
To keep interest on the enterprise side, RIM officials said its Fusion mobile device management platform – the successor to BlackBerry Enterprise Server – will have its security features extended to Apple iOS and Android devices. Fusion can manage not only BlackBerry and PlayBook tablets, but also iPhones, iPads and Android handsets and tablets. However, the encrypted security that BlackBerrys offer isn’t included.

RIM promises that by the next BlackBerry World encryption for iOS and Android devices data in transit and at rest will be added.

Having tighter security for other platforms is a way of extending the value of Fusion and make corporate investment in the platform worth keeping in the face of Bring Your Own Device policies.

However, it isn’t clear if that means RIM’s vaunted security on other platforms will be as good as it is for BlackBerrys. In an interview, Mike Brown, RIM’s director of product security, said the security protection will be “up to the level the [competing] operating system will allow.”

BlackBerry operating systems have other tricks up their sleeve, he said, such as ensuring the OS has strong authentication for any commands from Fusion to RIM-made devices.

Nick McQuire, a British based mobility analyst with IDC, said he was “pleasantly suprised” with the demo. But, he added, RIM still has a long way to go to recover lost buyer interest. In particular, it has to show results — oft-delayed BB10 has to be released this year, he said.
It’s also hard for enterprises to evaluate the impact of BB10 without seeing the final operating system and handset, he said.

Asked if it’s too late for RIM in the face of the increasing preference for enterprise users for iPhone and Android handsets, McQuire said RIM’s priority has to be protecting its base of 77 million subscribers.

“I’ve seen enough to suggest that what they’ve got under the hood – provided there aren’t any hiccups in terms of bugs – is probably enough to attract a large number of them.”

The company’s new brand messages, outlined by Heins – that BlackBerrys are linked to agility, helping users be successful in work yet also fun – will resonate with its base, he said.

That will help with a company that has yet to appoint a new chief marketing officer, he added.

Whether Android or iPhone users will shift to BB10 is impossible to say without seeing the final products, he said.

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