Can BlackBerry 7 OS Hold The Fort For RIM?


Can RIM rely on the BlackBerry OS 7 devices to keep the ship afloat until QNX is smartphone ready, asks David Jamieson

Attending the launch of the latest BlackBerry smartphones here in London yesterday, it’s plain that Research In Motion thinks the BlackBerry 7 OS will arrest its slide from the top table of the smartphone market.

But rewind to December last year. Back then, RIM’s co-CEO Mike Lazaridis confirmed that the QNX operating system as seen on the Playbook tablet was destined for the BlackBerry platform.

So why should anyone buy into BB 7 and these new handsets if RIM admits they are simply a stop gap?

Well, as far as we know there is no definitive time frame for the shift to QNX except the vague notion that it probably won’t be before the second half of 2012.

And this is not the same as the infamous “burning platform” memo from Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop, who lamented the company’s own operating system MeeGo, suggesting it was dead in the water before it had even got its hair wet.

RIM has to back BB 7 confidently and completely – it has no choice. Its smartphone portfolio has begun looking tired compared to the competition. It is being decimated in the market by Android and Apple, who have evolved faster and better, even gobbling up share in the enterprise space RIM used to call home.

It could not afford to wait and it is relying on the success of the new BB 7 phones to stabilise the BlackBerry ship in time for the release of QNX-based devices.

Nice. But nice enough?

The updated OS looks and feels fresh, navigation is logical and smooth and touchscreen and software updates improve web browsing.

The Bold in particular is a slim and sophisticated looking phone crafted from brushed stainless steel, which feels solid in your hand.

However, apps drive smartphone success more than design. BlackBerry says there are 35,000 BlackBerry apps in App World. Not bad, but there are at least ten times as many in Apple’s App Store and almost as many on the Android Market.

And it remains to be seen if developers will think it worthwhile to keep producing apps if in the back of their mind they know a new OS is coming.

The NFC capability provides an element of future proofing but at the moment this is more of a luxury than a ‘must have’ as it is not currently well supported by applications.

A long journey ahead

The BB 7 stop gap, which isn’t a radical update, is also going to face some serious challenges if it is to see RIM through to the introduction of QNX – Android is ever evolving and enjoying remarkable growth and Apple has not been resting on its laurels, with iOS 5 just around the corner. Even Windows is due to receive a significant update in the form of ‘Mango’.

With RIM haemorrhaging market share, particularly in the US, there has been an increasing sense of malaise around the brand. It recently announced it would shed 2,000 members of staff and its first quarter revenues were down a huge 12 percent to £3 billion. Its unconventional management structure featuring two CEOs has also come in for criticism.

The QNX handsets have been excitingly referred to as ‘superphones’ but will BB 7 put RIM in a strong enough position to take advantage of such a phone a year or more from now?

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