November 16, 2012

RIM: 100,000 BlackBerry Apps, One Keyboard, One Touchscreen at Launch


Research in Motion (RIM) CEO Thorsten Heins has, in our very humble opinion, played a great few hands of poker since he took over at RIM back in September 2011. In fact he’s played a few stellar hands considering the enormously bad cards he was dealt by his co-predecessors (that would be Jim Balsille and Mike Lazaridis). Back when RIM first announced that it would yet again need to postpone the introduction of both BlackBerry 10 (BB 10) and its new devices, the tech community threw up its hands and said, “Oh well, this is surely the end of RIM’s road.”

That may still prove to be the case. At the end of every World Champion poker tournament, there can only be one person left standing, and no matter how deftly a player may have played his or her hands, at the end of the day there is always the element of luck (no matter that the poker pros say that there ain’t no such thing as luck, there is) that came into play to swing victory one way or another. And this is where RIM finds itself today. 


Image via Shutterstock

When Heins opted to delay the introduction of all things BB 10 it was akin to folding his hand rather than going all in with the odds of a victory stacked entirely against him. We were among those that lamented –not because Heins folded, but rather because Lazaridis and Balsillie left him no choice but to fold his hand that day, rather than go all in with a lousy hand. Heins deserves a great deal of credit for making that move. Yes, it means RIM misses the 2012 holiday buying season, but what it also means is that RIM clearly had no credible strategy in hand to get to the holiday season anyway. Lousy products and lousy mobile user experiences are a hand to fold, not to go all in with. Live to fight another day.

Whether RIM will be able to hold on to fight another day depends entirely on the quality of the devices it puts out there. So far we’ve heard mixed signals from RIM – these new toys will have consumer appeal, but they will be targeting enterprise users. There will be a touchscreen device, but they will also come out with yet another keyboard gadget because well, RIM cannot let go and still believes that too many of its existing users want that keyboard. In fact, Heins believes that the keyboard lovers among us are now entirely underserved by all of the new devices that will be out there during the holiday season (with the now old Bolds and Curves RIM still subsidizes the wireless carriers to keep on the shelves holding down the keyboard lovers’ fort).

There isn’t much else to say about the hardware…yet – the devices are in the hands of 50+ carriers and going through pre-release testing. Our opinion is that everything for RIM hinges on the touchscreen being an amazing new device – this is the only hand that will bring RIM the championship money. But as all good poker players know, to get to that winning hand also requires setting up the final hand.

For RIM that setup comes from the cards it has so far put on the table – we’ve seen BB 10 in great detail, and it delivers a potentially great new user experience. Now, Heins says that when the new devices launch on January 30, 2012 there will also be 100,000 apps waiting for users in its app store. This would be a record number of mobile apps awaiting the launch of an entirely new mobile platform (by platform we mean the combination of both the new OS and entirely new gadgets).

Many of these will of course be ports from Android and iOS, but developers are quite well -known for being loath to invest any dollars in ports before and until it’s absolutely clear the market will be there. What this means is that Heins has convinced a lot of developers that there will indeed be a substantial market for them, which makes that number an impressive one. Heins has also spent a lot of time over the last few months making it clear that RIM is not looking strictly at numbers of apps – the company has gone to great lengths to market the notion that it is being selective in the quality of the apps that will show up on January 30. We got a good hint of this at RIM’s San Diego BlackBerry Jam event in October 2012.

In a recent interview with Reuters, Heins notes that "The tactic we are deploying is by country and by region. We are aiming to have the most important 200 to 400 apps available, because many applications are regional and they really do have a regional flavor." That is an interesting approach and speaks to RIM’s substantial markets outside of the United States. The markets outside of the United States continue to actually be strong for RIM, but let’s face it – it is the US that will make or break RIM once January 30th has come and gone.

Heins has also spent the last few months making it clear that RIM’s app approach will target users that make use of RIM in work-based environments where there is a heavy emphasis in accomplishing a great many work related things during the course of a given day. The BB 10 enterprise demos we’ve seen all drive this message and the BB 10 Flow UI underpins it as well. On top of this Heins now adds the local and “targeted” flavor of the new apps. He goes on to elaborate in the Reuters interview, "We've done 30 jam conferences in various cities all around the world, to get the bucket filled with meaningful local apps and not just a huge bunch of applications that you collect and throw at your audience. It is a very, very targeted approach."

As the BlackBerry jam sessions have worked hard to demonstrate, even though well-targeted, as Heins notes above, the collection of apps that will launch are also diverse and span every end of the spectrum, from entertainment to business to productivity and everything in between. What you won’t find, per Heins, are 1,500 versions of Solitaire or 1,500 replacement apps for BB 10’s camera software.

In any case, the countdown now begins. We continue to be on the hunt for those pre-release images of the hardware, because that is indeed where the make or break for RIM sits. But we can say that Heins’ setup in getting to the final sit down for the championship dollars – given what Heins had to start with - has been as well played by Heins as it could possibly be played.

BB 10 and a well-honed set of 100,000 apps are the setup. Now all that remains is that final hand to play with the hardware. We continue to hope that RIM succeeds.




Edited by Brooke Neuman



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