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We’ve been waiting a long time for the BlackBerry 10 operating system. Just how long was underlined at its globally webcast launch event in New York on Wednesday when the tech world watched uncomfortably as an avid fan, who’d promised to not cut his hair until BlackBerry 10 was released, had his ponytail snipped off.
It was a long ponytail.
So was it worth the wait? Predictably, some analysts dismissed the launch as a flop, complaining that BlackBerry 10 and the two new handsets also unveiled at the event didn’t have the wow factor necessary to reverse the fortunes of the beleaguered Canadian company formerly known as Research in Motion (RIM).
I say “formerly” because, not content with unveiling a new operating system and two phones, company chief executive Thorsten Heins also announced that RIM would henceforth go by the name of its flagship product, BlackBerry.
So it’s RIP for RIM. But not, I think, for BlackBerry – despite the dire predictions of the cynics.
It won’t be easy to catch up with, or even keep pace from behind with heavyweight competitors such as Apple and Samsung, but there are at least three things in BlackBerry’s favour that I believe will help it survive and perhaps even thrive.
First, its new handsets aren’t nearly the duds the prophets of doom say they are. I haven’t had a chance to handle them yet, but several tech journalists I respect have spent some time with them and were pretty impressed, if not bowled over.
The first, the Z10, has no physical keyboard, sporting instead a 4.2-inch multi-touch screen that’s slightly larger than the latest iPhone’s but quite a bit smaller than some current Android phones. It’s powered by a dual-core 1.5GHz processor and has 2GB of RAM.
The 8-megapixel rear-facing camera can shoot 1080p video, while the 2-megapixel front-facing camera will make good-quality video calls.
The 1800mAh battery is removable and the relatively miserly built-in memory of 16GB can be beefed up via a microSD slot. There’s also GPS, wi-fi and Bluetooth.
The second phone, the Q10, will appeal to the more traditional BlackBerry fan who just can’t live without a physical qwerty keyboard.
It too has a dual-core 1.5GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, an 8-megapixel rear- camera and a 2-megapixel front camera, but the screen is smaller (3.1 inches) to accommodate the keyboard.
So when will South Africans be able to buy them?
At the time of going to press only Telkom’s 8ta had made any announcements, saying it would stock the Z10 from March 1 and the Q10 in April. There are no prices yet for either phone, but expect them to be in the same premium bracket as the current high-end BlackBerry and Android phones.
My second point in BlackBerry’s favour is actually criticised as a weakness by the glass-half-empty brigade – the fact there are “only” 70 000 applications to choose from.
Now, this may be dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands of apps available to iOS and Android users but, seriously, how many apps does the average person actually use?
The important thing is that BlackBerry promises that almost all of the really popular apps will be there, including favourites such as Skype, Amazon Kindle, WhatsApp and, yes, Angry Birds. Locally, First National Bank has confirmed that its popular banking app will be available for BlackBerry 10.
Third and finally, US-based analysts who write off BlackBerry have no idea how hugely popular its phones are in developing countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Brazil, India and China, the very countries savvy companies are looking to for growth.
The fact that the new BlackBerry 10 phones almost certainly won’t come with BIS, the uncapped internet service that helped make BlackBerry phones so popular in developing countries, is a negative mark. But as all-you-can-eat mobile broadband prices continue to drop, BIS is becoming less of a lure and BlackBerry is wise to start focusing on its handsets, operating system and apps.
Whether you’re a CrackBerry or you’ve switched to iPhone, Android or, perhaps, Windows Phone 8, consider this: it’s in your interest that BlackBerry makes a comeback. A strong BlackBerry means more competition and more choice, and that can only be good for consumers.
* For the latest on SA release dates and pricing, visit my blog GeekBeard.posterous.com or follow me on Twitter @alanqcooper.