The BlackBerry, Rebuilt, Lives to Fight Another Day
The camera software is terrific. One feature, Time Shift, is mind-blowing. You take a photo of people—then, with your finger on a face, you can dial forward or backward up to two seconds in time, seeking that perfect expression. You repeat with the next face, and the next, until you've dialed up the perfect fraction of a second, independently, for each person in the shot. Admit it: that's brilliant.
The BlackBerry 10 neatly solves a huge problem for corporate techies: how to keep employees' work phones secure in a world where people also use their phones for personal things. If a company has RIM's corporate software suite, they can create separate worlds on each phone: personal and work, with distinct calendars, address books, wallpaper and even app collections. They appear together—but without the work password, only the personal stuff is visible.
When the employee leaves the company, one stroke deletes the whole corporate or personal half.
The popular BlackBerry Message (BBM) service now lets you make free phone calls and video calls over the Internet. You can even screencast: share what you're doing on your screen with your conversation partner—a map, an app, a photographic snap. (BlackBerry 10 required; older BlackBerry models can use BBM only for texts.)
Thanks to NFC (near-field communication), you can shoot a photo, map, Web page, app, file or song to another BlackBerry 10 owner, wirelessly, on the spot. Other phones do NFC sharing, but rarely as simply.
There are some glitches. There's no physical silencer switch (only a software function). In the Mail app, you can't move from one message to the next without returning to in Inbox in between. The calendar views don't rotate when you turn the phone, and you can't drag appointments to reschedule them. When you've used the faux Siri to dictate a message or e-mail, you can't edit it, even manually. And the battery barely makes it through a day.
But the usual Achilles' heel for a new smartphone type is the apps. Who could catch up with the 750,000 apps available for iPhone or Android? (The BlackBerry Z10 doesn't run older BlackBerry apps.)
Incredibly, RIM says that there will be 70,000 apps available on Day One. The company shrewdly wrote a utility program that can convert Android apps, making it simple for programmers to adapt their wares.
That's a well-stocked salad bar, but it's not the whole grocery. Most of the big-name apps are already there, but a few important ones are still missing: Kindle, Draw Something, Pinterest, Hipstamatic, Instagram, Netflix and most airline and bank apps.
Those apps will surely materialize if BlackBerry 10 is a success. The question is: Will it be one?
The software is simple to master, elegantly designed and surprisingly complete. It offers features nobody else offers, some tailored to the corporate world that raised BlackBerry aloft in its glory days.
Remember, too, that 80 million people still carry BlackBerries, and many have a deep love for the BlackBerry Way.
On the other hand—wow, is this horse late to the race. The BlackBerry music, movie and app stores are just getting underway. If you choose BlackBerry over iPhone or Android, you give up some very attractive ecosystems, like the way Apple synchronizes your calendar, messages, and photos on all your gadgets. Or, for Android, the similar conveniences of Google Voice and Google Maps.
These days, excellence in a smartphone isn't enough. Microsoft's phone is terrific, too, and nobody will touch it.
So then: Is the delightful BlackBerry Z10 enough to save RIM?
Honestly? It could go either way. But this much is clear: RIM is no longer an incompetent mess—and its doom is no longer a sure thing.