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TMCNet:  Beaver County Times, Pa., Michael Pound column

[February 04, 2013]

Beaver County Times, Pa., Michael Pound column

Feb 03, 2013 (Beaver County Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- I've said it here several times: Blackberry, the brand that started the smartphone segment, is on life support.

And while I'm not completely convinced that the company's announcements of new products -- really cool-looking products, by the way -- are going to stave off a painful end, Blackberry has made it clear that it's going to try to keep up with a market it's been trailing for more than five years.

As we discussed back before Christmas, Blackberry, the company formerly known as Research in Motion, scheduled a big product announcement for Jan. 30. We learned on that day that BB still has some problems with timing -- more about that later -- they did, at very least, come up with a new device that seems like a winner.

Meet the new Blackberry. And more importantly, meet the new Blackberry operating system, called Blackberry 10. I haven't seen one in person -- my test device was apparently lost in the mail -- but the reviews indicate that it is to be taken seriously.

The goodies: The hub. For a long time, BB was the king of mobile email, so you'd expect to see that it would play up that legacy in its latest operating system. It does, but it goes one better with the Hub, a centralized spot where all of a user's communications notifications are channeled. You don't have to find separate icons for mail, messages or even Twitter or Facebook -- they're all in the Hub, and you can reach them with one swipe.

Intuitive typing. The New York Times' David Pogue raves about the software behind BB10's interface, both for its potential as a time-saver and a drop-dead cool factor. BB anticipates the words you're looking for, based on the first couple letters you type; the suggested words pop up on the screen and if you see the one you wanted, you flick it up into the screen. It also learns your tendencies as you go, so the suggestions should improve with time.

Say cheese. Most of the camera features sound pretty standard, with one exception: a feature called TimeShift, which allows you to adjust the facial expressions of individuals in a group shot. The camera records not just a single exposure, but several and users can switch those out if Aunt Mary has her eyes closed in one but open in another.

Business and pleasure. BB earned its once lofty reputation, along with its once-lofty market share, by being the platform for business, but a business-only device isn't going to fly these days. So how does BB intend to satisfy those who want the personal touches that come with today's smart phones while providing the security that BB is famous for Simple -- BB creates segments for both worlds on the device. A swipe will allow users to switch between their personal stuff -- wallpapers, address books, Angry Birds, etc. -- and whatever software their employers have installed; calendars, contacts, email accounts and even apps are segregated, a feature that should keep users and company IT people happy.

To summarize: This sounds like a really cool platform.

But I wonder if it's too late. Back in 2008, when RIM finally got around to releasing a touch-screen phone, the Blackberry lineups dominated the smartphone world, commanding a ridiculous 45-percent market share. But the Torch, the company's first entry into the touch-screen world, was a disaster, and BB fell behind while Android and Apple stepped up.

The result Blackberry ended 2012 with a market share below 5 percent.

Even last week's announcement raises questions. If you're going to try to jump back into the market, why wait until a month after the biggest retail season on the calendar And when you do jump back into the market, why did you do it when the devices won't be ready to hit shelves for two months The delay will help in one respect -- the availability of apps. Over the years, BB fell far behind in that area, while Apple and Google Play were amassing app store catalogs that reach far into six digits. BB officials said when the new devices hit shelves in March, the company store will have 70,000 apps available -- and maybe that's one reason why we're waiting.

So, yeah, I'm still skeptical. But it would be good for the entire market if BB is able to stick around. The company has shown that it can still innovate, and there is money to be made, even with a modest market share. The new OS is worth a look, and that could mean that BB is worth a second look as well.

___ (c)2013 Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.) Visit the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.) at www.timesonline.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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