Yet another new smartphone OS… where is RIM?

Posted on 16. Feb, 2010 by in BlackBerry, Tech News

With the Windows Phone 7 series announcement from Microsoft today, I got to thinking about the smartphone landscape and how RIM is falling further and further behind.  Now don’t get me wrong, RIM still makes the best smartphone on the market in my opinion and I would not give up my Bold. From a hardware standpoint only HTC rivals the quality and comfort of a BlackBerry. The screens are crisp, the keyboards are unmatched and the durability of the phones make them a consumers dream. At the same time, my willingness to tryout other platforms has grown tremendously over the last few months and it is all because of the software.  Each major handset manufacturer has released or will release a brand new operating system in the past year or near future. Android, WebOS, and now Windows Phone 7 are begging me to try a new and fresh user experience that was made with this decade in mind.  RIM has a lot of things to do to catch up but I’ll just talk about a few that have been on my mind.

The first problem they have is with the age of their code base. The BlackBerry OS that we all know and love is over 5 years old. Sure, they have made it look more pleasing to the eye over the years but fundamentally it is the same OS with incremental add-ons on each release. The capabilities of mobile devices have increased exponentially In the last 5 years, and I think that a complete overhaul of the OS with today’s hardware is completely necessary. Take a look at Windows Mobile. From 6.0 to 6.1 to 6.5 they really made no changes to the OS and everyone complained about the lack of innovation and the hacked on feel of the touch controls. They were just building on past work trying to keep up with the devices and consumer expectations and in the meantime lost valuable market share and appeal. They got smart this year and are releasing a fundamentally new OS from the ground up. Palm has also done this and Android started with a fresh code base.  I fear RIM is heading in the direction of Windows Mobile with the BlackBerry. You can hardly tell the difference between 4.6, 4.7, and 5.0. Aside from a few small things they feel like the exact same and as a consumer why get a new device if it will work just like my old one. I for one am surprised RIM hasn’t faced the same widespread criticism that Microsoft did, but time will tell which direction RIM chooses to go on the OS front.

Another area where I think RIM is falling behind is the application environment. Let’s face it, App World just doesn’t cut it. As a developer myself, I don’t want to pay the fees to get my application on App World when I can list it on Mobihand for free at whatever price I want along with very good exposure. Add to the this the fact that Verizon will have their own app store for BlackBerry devices and what good is App World. The Android Marketplace is open without Apple style restrictions, and there are thousands and thousands of apps easily available. It took me 15 minutes to find and install 15 applications I wanted on my myTouch when doing the same for BlackBerry would have taken hours to find all the right links for OTA downloads.  The apps also look significantly better on other platforms than they do on BlackBerry’s and again as a developer it is a huge challenge to create a visually pleasing UI with any sort of ease. I get that RIM’s main focus is the business user but as more and more people start with smartphones, mainstream consumers will be a bigger and bigger part of their customer base and app environment is a way to make yourself stand out. Instead of playing catch-up in the app game with their app store, RIM needs to do something new or face losing consumers.

The last area I’m going to put out there today is more of a personal opinion on an implementation of a OS feature than necessarily a concrete reason they are falling behind the pack. That feature is notifications. Android has mastered notifications and I think it is hands down the best implementation of notifications on a smartphone OS to date. RIM, why do I have to see a little icon, back out of whatever I am doing, and search for a little star on the app logo to see what my notification was? Not to mention, if you are on the home screen it takes one menu press to get to all of my applications (too much screen real-estate wasted on the home screen). I should be able to preview my notification or find out what it is from where ever I am and be able to get straight to that application with one click or press on the notification. I almost want to use only Android just for this since I get so annoyed with how many steps it takes to see what’s going on with my phone.  Now like I said that is just a personal opinion on implementation but I do think it needs to be done.

So those are just my thoughts on the state of RIM’s current BlackBerry operating system. Even with all of these faults I think RIM will make waves in the industry for years to come.

Thanks BerryScoop for the chance to get my thoughts out!

You can visit Kyle’s site ALL KAPPS Software to learn more about him and the applications he has developed.

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4 Responses to “Yet another new smartphone OS… where is RIM?”

  1. Jason Cipriani

    16. Feb, 2010

    I have to agree with the majority of this post. Look what happened today, we get a new browser which was long long overdue. Yesterday WinMo fans get an entire OS!

    I know RIM is working on stuff we don’t know about yet, they would be stupid not to. The main point is, why are they so far behind. Didn’t they see the need to innovate and redo their OS the day the iPhone was announced? The OS they put on a Storm was not an innovation, it was an adaptation.

  2. David Smith

    18. Feb, 2010

    That was a well written and interesting piece, so I hope the writer will accept my dissenting challenge. I agree that the Blackberry OS does seem rather old compared to Android or WebOS, but that’s only because it is. The real issue isn’t which OS is the oldest; the real issue is which OS is more functional, which one works better, and which one offers a more complete user experience. In my humble opinion, the answer is Blackberry.

    Yes, Microsoft is completely redoing their mobile OS. This is long overdue, and it’s something Micorsoft must do if it plans to compete in mobile arena moving forward. Microsoft has long been losing market share in the mobile sector because of its terrible Windows Mobile OS, and patching the OS didn’t work because its original design was to be used on a different type of device (think PDA) with a stylus. It doesn’t take a great deal of intellect to conclude that adding onto an existing OS that’s not only failing, but that’s also incapable of making use of newer technologies such as capacitive touch screens wouldn’t be a prudent move for Microsoft. The same case can be made for Palm and its new WebOS. Palm was losing market share quarter after quarter. The company had come to a point where they either had to reinvent their product or die. (As a side note: Palm’s old OS was also meant to be used on a PDA style device with a stylus.)

    However, RIM is not in the same position as Microsoft or Palm. RIM has been constantly growing quarter after quarter in both business and consumer markets, and it has great growth potential in these markets going forward. One of RIM’s primary advantages in the mobile sector is also one of Microsoft’s and Google’s biggest disadvantages. RIM, like Apple, has the advantage of creating both its own OS and its own hardware. This is a big advantage in the mobile sphere because RIM is able to completely tailor its user experience the exact way it wants without having to deal with outside sources. By creating both its own hardware and software, RIM is able to offer its end users a mobile experience like no other. Does the Blackberry OS offer the same experience as a touch screen device? No. But I think it’s safe to conclude that one of the reasons RIM is doing so well is because not everyone likes the touch screen interface. And while RIM’s OS may seem outdated, its user experience remains as fresh, viable, and untouched as ever. Maybe people really do want something different? Maybe people really do like what RIM has to offer? Microsoft appears to be catching on to this, and they’re finally putting forth a very stringent set of requirements for all devices that wish to use the new Windows Phone 7 Series OS.

    I agree with on you the applications front. Apple and Google do offer many more applications that tent to be of better quality while still managing to be cheaper than most of the applications offered for Blackberry. This is an area where RIM really needs to step up its game, and removing some of the restrictive App World policies would be a very good place to start. However, by trying to make its OS more developer friendly, RIM seems to be passively acknowledging its failings in the applications department and taking proactive steps to improve the situation. Yes, there isn’t a huge amount of visual different between RIM’s OS 4.7 and 5.0, but I do believe there have been quite a few internal changes made for the express purpose of helping developers bring quality applications to the Blackberry OS. New APIs, Open GL support, and Widget support to name a few. I should also point out that I’m not a Blackberry developer, so this is an area where I must defer to the experts.

    I also agree that Android does do a very good job of handling new notifications, but I would disagree with your assertion that Android’s notification system is in any way better than a Blackberry’s. Yes, you get a nice visual notification, but notifications need to be acted on or replied to, not just seen. As the owner of three Android devices, I’ve never found the act of replying to an Android notification to be a any quicker than that of replying to a Blackberry notification. Let’s just be honest here, RIM’s use of a unified inbox (something not offered on competing OSes) makes the act of replying to almost any incoming notification a breeze. From BBMs, to SMS, to MMS, to email (from any account), to a Facebook update they’re all in one place. And once RIM finalizes its twitter client, new tweets will appear there as well. The unified inbox means that almost every notification or incoming message can be located quickly in one place. By simply holding down the Blackberry Menu button, the user is able to bring up the Application Switcher allowing him/her to quickly get to the Messages icon. Whether browsing the web or watching a video, checking and replying to an incoming message is never more than few clicks away for the seasoned Blackberry user, and getting back to your previous task couldn’t be easier. Android’s notification bar does offer a better visual indication of incoming messages, but the steps required to either respond to the message or clear the notification will require just as many steps if not more than the Blackberry. RIM also allows for the use of custom, user definable notification tones for each of the different incoming notifications so there’s never a real issue of trying to figure out which type of message you just received.

    It’s obvious from your piece that we both love our Blackberries, and I’m not trying to be confrontational at all. I completely agree that RIM needs to make some changes (quickly) if they intend to compete against a slew of new mobile OSes. However I do not think the incessant drumbeat for RIM to completely overhaul its Blackberry OS is neither necessary or warranted. RIM’s best bet at this point in time is to continue to improve on its highly secussful product. Newer OS are nice, but RIM is offering something so different that mobile users on any platform can’t help but wonder what it is that make a Blackberry so great.

    • kyle fowler

      18. Feb, 2010


      thanks for the comment. You bring up some very good points here and I definitely agree with some of them. You ask Does the Blackberry OS offer the same experience as a touch screen device? I think this is my problem, they do have 2 touch screen devices and the current OS, while great for trackpads/balls does not cut it for touchscreen. It is very inferior to the other touchscreen OS’es that I have used. So maybe this is more towards where my post is aimed at. And I think that addresses your first 2 paragraphs with the functionality of the OS. I wouldnt trade my trackball and physical keyboard with the BB OS for anything, which is why I would never make an android my primary device but I wouldnt touch the Storm with a 10 foot poll haha.

      With the notifications, I agree there is convenience in the unified inbox but the apps you mentioned are all RIM created apps. 3rd party apps hardly use it, and I think it would be a much better argument if they did. But like I said, notifications are a preference thing and I absolutely love the myTouch for that. And from what I have heard, the notification sounds/customization is much better in the 2.1 build of android so they may be closer to getting it right.

      Thanks again for the comment, I love the discussion on the topic and always like to hear other opinions.

  3. JohnnyNoir

    22. Feb, 2010

    When will RIM die so i can get a real smartphone at work? Since one of our security guys is a Crackberry addict, he’s decided that we should all have them. I don’t like them. I’ve tried my wife’s Blackberry and I find them annoying. I don’t like the trackball, the screen is too small (I’m far-sighted) and I hate the keyboard too. So, I’m stuck with a WinMo 6.1 phone until the RIM is irrelavent as a phone option. They appear to difting in that direction. Can’t happen so enough for me.