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BlackBerry 10 Launch Effort Bears Fruit
By Barry Levine
Posted: January 31, 2013 10:34am PST

Analyst Ross Rubin said the BlackBerry 10 platform and devices show "a way of working that will likely have a lot of appeal" to users interested in efficiency. The key to this, he said, is a new approach to maximizing screen real estate. BlackBerry 10 users can bring in menus from the side, shift between applications, or peek at messages -- all with one thumb.

If you were BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins, you might be feeling pretty good today. Initial reaction to the do-or-die launch on Wednesday of the BlackBerry 10 devices has been mostly positive -- but will it be enough to turn the company around?

The widely followed personal-technology columnist Walt Mossberg wrote Wednesday night in The Wall Street Journal that he liked the new virtual keyboard in the Z10, one of the two BB 10 models unveiled at the launch, as well as the collection of all messages in the Hub. In fact, he called that keyboard "the best and fastest out-of-the-box virtual keyboard I've used."

But, he noted, the 70,000 apps for the new BlackBerry -- which is now also the name of the company formerly known as Research In Motion -- is a fraction of those available for the iPhone or for Android devices.

'Radical Reinvention'

Mossberg also pointed to the lack of cloud-based storage, such as Apple's iCloud or Google Drive. Overall, Mossberg said, the Z10, the new Q10 model and BB10 "represent a radical reinvention" of the product line, offering "decent" hardware, a "logical" user interface and a general ease of use. This launch, he said, "has a chance of getting RIM back into the game" if it can attract more apps.

However, BlackBerry may be on the way to solving any apps hurdle. The 70,000 apps does not match iOS or Android's library, but it is far more than any consumer or business user can digest quickly. More important, the company has stressed the ease with which developers can convert their Android apps for the BB10 platform, so the stream of apps may soon start flowing.

We asked Al Hilwa, program director for Application Development Software Research at IDC, about apps for BB10. He described the batch of 70,000 as "a pretty good number," and said that amount at launch "was somewhat unexpected." He noted that developers will spend their time creating apps for platforms with sufficient numbers of devices, and, right now, "there's a battle for the third platform" that is largely between BB10 and Windows Phone.

'Fresh, Useful Ideas'

Hilwa added that, while "most of developers' energy" right now is directed at iOS and Android, the company formerly known as RIM "seems to be rejuvenated."

David Pogue at The New York Times apologized on Wednesday for ever having said that the company was doomed, now that the new BB10 devices were out. He described the Z10 as "lovely, fast and efficient, bristling with fresh, useful ideas."

And he praised what he called "the shocker" -- that, contrary to Mossberg's assessment, the new BB10 was launched with most of the major components for its ecosystem in place -- a "well-stocked app store," music and movies, speech recognition, turn-by-turn navigation, parental controls and more.

'They're Back'

Pogue also praised the keyboard on the Z10, the "terrific" camera software, and the platform's ability to establish separate worlds on the same phone for personal and work content. As for the future of the company, he said it could "go either way," but its "doom is no longer assured."

Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, expressed a similar assessment.

"The most important thing they needed to do," he told us, "was to broadcast a message that they're back and are reaffirming their commitment to the BlackBerry platform."

He said the new platform and devices show "a way of working that will likely have a lot of appeal" to users interested in efficiency. The key to this, Rubin said, is a new approach to maximizing screen real estate. He said that, in contrast to the big buttons in Windows Phone, BlackBerry 10 uses techniques called Peek and Flow to bring in menus from the side, shift between applications, or peek at messages without actually opening them -- all with one thumb.

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