Analysis: RIM after BlackBerry 10 debut - Dead or alive?

RIM's new operating system could help the company reclaim its smartphone prominence, but there are still some big roadblocks in its way.

Research In Motion recently unveiled its next-generation mobile operating system, BlackBerry 10, giving critics a little more insight into the company's future prospects. BlackBerry 10 is a significant break from previous BlackBerry operating systems that focused on physical keyboards and smaller screens; BB10 is designed for touchscreens first. The new BlackBerry platform will still include RIM's traditional enterprise-focused hallmarks such as stability and security. But the company is also making a play for app developers so it can woo consumers by offering popular apps for gaming and social networking.

Once the reigning king of smartphones in the U.S., the company's popularity has fallen off a cliff since Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007. As recently as December 2009, RIM's BlackBerry handsets claimed nearly 42 percent of all smartphone users in the U.S. As of March, that market share has dropped to just 12.3 percent behind Android and iOS, according to metrics firm comScore.

RIM's fresh face could help the company reclaim its smartphone prominence, but there are still some big roadblocks in its way, namely Apple and Google.

BlackBerry 10 Looks Slick

BlackBerry 10 looks impressive with features such as an adaptive keyboard that adjusts to your typing style, keyboard gestures for easier communication, and a WebOS-style card interface to swipe between apps and separate screens within apps. There's also a new camera that captures a few frames before you even hit the shutter button to let you adjust and edit your photos on the fly.

RIM also says the new QNX-based OS will have true multitasking and fast touch-based responsiveness. It's hard to know for sure how good BlackBerry 10 will be until the first round of devices roll out this year, but what RIM has shown off so far looks great.

BlackBerry 10 Isn't Just for Smartphone and Tablets

RIM wants to take BlackBerry 10 way beyond handheld mobile devices and put the new OS in cars and other embedded devices. This is not so surprising since BlackBerry 10's software core comes from QNX, a company RIM acquired in 2010. QNX is known for its industrial-grade operating systems and many cars currently on the road are running QNX software. Going beyond smartphones and tablets could be a big win for RIM, especially as it tries to battle back from years of smartphone market share losses to Android and iOS.

Overcoming iOS and Android

At this point it seems unlikely that RIM will ever reclaim its position as the top smartphone OS in the U.S. Apple and Google have a huge lead over RIM, with Google taking the lion's share of smartphone users at 51 percent as of March, according to comScore. Apple is in second place with 30.7 percent, followed by RIM at 12.3 percent. Those numbers show a 3.7 percentage point drop for RIM compared to December 2011, when BlackBerry claimed 16 percent of users in the U.S.

Windows Phone

RIM may also have to deal with Windows Phone, although this obstacle will be not be as formidable as clawing back market share from Android and iOS. Microsoft's revamped smartphone platform hasn't gained much traction yet, but that could change if users decide to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8 later this year. Just like Windows Phone, Windows 8 uses Microsoft's Metro-style interface and if users like Metro on their new tablets and PCs, that could convince some to jump to a Metro-style phone as well. Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 8 is also expected to integrate deeply with Windows 8, which could also convince users to move into an all Microsoft world.

The Keyboard Lives

RIM says it plans to produce not only touch-based devices, but also traditional physical keyboard smartphones using its new BB10 platform. That shows the company is aware that even though most of the world is looking for responsive touchscreen devices, RIM still attracts a lot of people to its platforms thanks to devices with physical keyboards. That's a smart move as many enterprises may still be looking for a traditional physical keyboard to satisfy executives not wishing to embrace the touchscreen revolution.

RIM's first round of BB10 devices could arrive as early as October.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) on Twitter and Google+, and with Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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Ian Paul

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