I just got back from Orlando and the Research in Motion (TSX: RIM) BlackBerry World 2012 conference. The BlackBerry-maker made a ton of major announcements during the three-day event, but a number of things really stand out in my mind.
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Here’s a list of the five most notable BlackBerry World 2012 announcements and happenings, in my opinion, along with some thoughts on what they all mean to RIM and BlackBerry.
1) BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha Smartphone
The announcement that got the most press attention at BlackBerry World 2012 was the release of the BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha device, the first smartphone from RIM that runs the next-generation BlackBerry 10 mobile OS. The device was distributed to every developer who attended RIM’s associated BlackBerry 10 Jam conference, along with a number of additional RIM partners. The BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha handheld is designed specifically for developers, so they can test and perfect their BlackBerry 10 applications before RIM releases the first official BlackBerry 10 device later this year. And as such, it won’t ever be released to the public.
However, the BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha device is notable for a number of reasons. First of all, it provides a general idea of what the first BlackBerry 10 device will look like; RIM says that some of the specs will change, but it’s also safe to assume that some will remain the same, such as the 1280×768 HD LCD (356ppi) touch display and the lack of a “physical” hardware keyboard.
I, like everyone else at the event, wish that RIM released an official BlackBerry 10 device that everyone could use at BlackBerry World, but I completely understand why it did not. And I think the move was the right thing to do, especially when you consider just how important quality applications will be to the success of BlackBerry 10.
2) BlackBerry 10 Keyboard and Camera
Along with the BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha device, RIM officially unveiled the BlackBerry 10 platform, released a handful of related developer tools and showed off a couple of cool new features in the mobile OS. The two most impressive BlackBerry 10 features RIM demonstrated were a camera option that lets you “rewind” or “fast forward” your photos to help find the best possible moments and get the best images and the new on-screen BlackBerry 10 touch keyboard.
The new BlackBerry 10 touch keypad is designed to feel like a traditional BlackBerry keyboard, with its large keys and “frets” between the rows of on-screen buttons. But it also incorporates a number of gestures to finish typing words and sentences for you and to quickly delete words, etc. (The video below shows the BlackBerry 10 touch keyboard in action.)
I was a bit disappointed that RIM didn’t show more BlackBerry 10 features and functionality, but what it did show was definitely impressive. And not only are the new camera features and touch keypad exciting, but they’re also unique and innovative, which is hopefully a sign of things to come for BlackBerry 10 in the future.
3) RIM and the Enterprise: The Future of BlackBerry Mobile Fusion
RIM’s major enterprise announcements from BlackBerry World 2012 were somewhat overshadowed by BlackBerry 10 and the Dev Alpha device, but the company did release some significant news. Most notably, RIM said it plans to release a cloud-based version of its next-generation BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) software, called BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, within the coming year. That means within a year BlackBerry IT shops will have access to three versions of Mobile Fusion: 1) on-premise; 2) hosted and managed; and 3) cloud-based.
RIM also announced that as part of its commitment to provide the best mobile device management (MDM) features and functionality not just for BlackBerry devices, but also for iOS and Android, the company will add security features specific to these devices, including but not limited to on-device security features such as on-device-data encryption.
RIM’s CIO Robin Beinfait, who rarely appears at RIM conferences, at least not on stage — I can’t remember seeing her speak at all, and I’ve been at almost every major RIM show for the past five years — also made an appearance during the BlackBerry World 2012 keynote. Bienfait’s presence was unexpected, and it seemed to me like a gesture of thanks toward RIM’s enterprise customers.
From an enterprise perspective, BlackBerry Mobile Fusion is really RIM’s future right now, and its continued success in business will largely rely on how well customers receive the new software and services. So it’s reassuring to see RIM committing to the addition of valuable new features not just for BlackBerry, but also for additional platforms.
4) BlackBerry Application Quality and Certification Initiative
One announcement from BlackBerry World and the BlackBerry 10 Jam that didn’t get as much attention as I believe it deserved is a brand new RIM initiative that’s designed to improve the overall quality of applications in BlackBerry App World, RIM’s software shop. The company hasn’t released too many official details on the program yet, but the general idea is that it will institute a new application certification system and reward developers who consistently deliver high-quality BlackBerry software.
More specifically, BlackBerry developers can get faster app approvals in App World and even win $10,000 from RIM. The program is notable for a couple of reasons. First, RIM and BlackBerry have fallen behind rivals like Apple and Google when it comes to applications, and the success of the BlackBerry platform in the future largely hinges on its ability to catch up to the pack. One solid way to both draw developers and ensure that those developers build the highest quality apps possible is to launch a program like this one.
Second, the overall quality of applications in BlackBerry App World has decreased over the past several months, and it’s nice to see RIM acknowledge the issue and act toward fixing the problem. RIM has done a lot in recent months to make it easier and more attractive to develop for BlackBerry, and this latest initiative is further evidence that the company understands just how important developers and quality applications are to its future.
5) RIM’s New CEO Thorsten Heins
I can honestly say the person who most impressed me at BlackBerry World 2012 was RIM’s new Chief Executive, Thorsten Heins. He was confident and direct, genuine and likable, during his first BlackBerry World keynote address. But it wasn’t until his press session the following day that I saw Heins’ true colors.
He immediately acknowledged the majority of RIM’s current challenges in the mobile market, and plainly stated most of the mistakes it made in recent years that led to its current uphill battle, disarming the journalists and bloggers who were clearly ready to blast him with tough questions. Heins spoke frankly and honestly about how RIM spread itself too thin during the past years, acknowledged marketing misfires, addressed some specific organizational inefficiencies and then shared very clear goals and objectives for the company in the coming years, which, thanks to his candor and obvious faith in the company, seemed attainable.
At one point, while addressing RIM’s struggles in North America, his enthusiasm was so strong that you could practically feel it spreading through the crowd.
“In the U.S., we have an uphill battle ahead of us. We will be a strong contender in the U.S. again,” Heins said. “I absolutely expect us to regain market share in the US. I’m not here to be just a contender. I want to win.”
I’ve heard both of RIM’s former Co-CEOs, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, speak countless times — I even interviewed Lazaridis back in 2008. And though I always respected both men and it was clear just how intelligent they are, I never thought of either of them as “likable.” But that’s the word that kept coming to mind after my first couple of experiences with Thorsten Heins.
Heins’ friendly demeanor, German accent, awkward jokes, genuine energy and willingness to talk frankly about challenging subjects all combined to humanize the man. Now, in reality, a CEO’s job is not necessarilyy to be liked, but to run a successful business. And RIM certainly has its fair share of challenges right now. But after only a couple of hours will Thorsten Heins, I couldn’t help but feel like RIM and BlackBerry are in good hands.