ON WEDNESDAY, Research In Motion, manufacturer of the Blackberry smartphone, announced its latest operating system, Blackberry 10.
RIM has been struggling to remain relevant against an onslaught of more capable, more stylish Android and iPhone devices, and it has pinned its hopes on this latest, major upgrade.
During the launch, RIM announced two devices -- the Z10 and the Q10.
The Z10 is something of a departure from previous Blackberry devices, and, were it not for the large Blackberry branding emblazoned on the chassis, could easily be mistaken for an Android smartphone.
The Z10 a 4.2-inch high-resolution display, comes in both black and white, and has a 1.5GHz processor and an 8 megapixel camera, which is accompanied by a front-facing camera. There's no physical keyboard.
The Q10, by contrast, looks like your traditional Blackberry of yore with a square screen and physical keypad -- but otherwise, the specifications are similar to the Z10.
The BlackBerry 10 operating system also features some important enhancements versus previous releases. BlackBerry Messenger has added screen-sharing functionality and video calling. BlackBerry Balance allows the phone to distinguish between business and personal accounts -- business accounts can be secure and remotely managed, while personal accounts can be managed by the user.
Enhancements to the interface cap off the Blackberry 10 operating system, which has seen nearly 20,000 app submissions since the specifications were made available to developers.
So there's the good. Now for the bad.
Blackberry wants buyers to chip in for a three-year contract, in a time when both businesses and individuals are looking for solutions that offer them increased fiscal flexibility. They've also stated that they had no plans to alter or change the screen resolutions on any devices that operated the Blackberry 10 operating system, meaning that any new devices that succeed the Q10 or Z10 will sport the same display clarity as their predecessors.
For most people, the first point will be a bigger deal than the second.
Demanding a three-year contract is odd, to say the least -- it almost seems like the strategy is to place a death grip on the company's customers to keep them around for as long as possible.
The refusal to alter screen resolutions makes some sense from both a development and fabrication standpoint, but it points to a lingering stodginess -- a perception that Blackberry has been going to great lengths to dispel.
Despite a strong residual customer base, many users have been jumping ship as the capability gap between Blackberry and its competition widened.
Whether the launch of the new Blackberry 10 operating system can change that will remain to be seen.
Nick DeLorenzo is director of interactive and new media for The Times Leader. E-mail him at [email protected].