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RIM Faces Hard Questions at this Week's Developers Conference

Ian Paul | Oct. 18, 2011
Will Blackberry-maker Research In Motion finally lay out clear plans for its next-generation devices on Tuesday during the company's Blackberry DevCon Americas developer conference in San Francisco? That's what some critics are wondering as RIM attempts to overhaul its image following a number of setbacks in recent months. Most recently, the company's reputation was battered from a multi-day service outage leaving Blackberry fans all over the globe without messaging and Internet capabilities.

Will Blackberry-maker Research In Motion finally lay out clear plans for its next-generation devices on Tuesday during the company's Blackberry DevCon Americas developer conference in San Francisco? That's what some critics are wondering as RIM attempts to overhaul its image following a number of setbacks in recent months. Most recently, the company's reputation was battered from a multi-day service outage leaving Blackberry fans all over the globe without messaging and Internet capabilities.

To make up for the recent service loss, RIM is offering affected users $100 worth of third-party apps available through Blackberry App World. The offering includes games such as the SIMS 3 and Bejeweled, a photo editor and text-to-speech apps. RIM says it will announce more free apps in the near future. In addition to the free apps, enterprise users are being offered one free month of technical support.

It's not clear if the gift of free apps will be enough to placate Blackberry users over, say, a free month of service. And the outage also undermines what RIM has claimed as one of its core advantages over competitors: rock-solid reliability.

But RIM's outage is just the latest problem for a company struggling to overcome problems such as declining popularity in North America, a tablet device that has failed to excite users, and a small but headline grabbing shareholder revolt calling for a management shake-up.

Blackberry's New Generation

The best hope for Blackberry's future appears to be the promise of next-generation handsets running an overhauled Blackberry OS, expected in the coming months. The new devices are based on QNX software, a well regarded industrial-grade operating system and recent RIM acquisition. The new devices may also be sporting a new interface designed by The Astonishing Tribe, a Swedish company that is also a recent RIM purchase.

The QNX-based Blackberry PlayBook may hint at what new RIM devices may look like, but very little is known about RIM's QNX-based handset plans. So many critics are hoping RIM will outline its plans or provide some kind of road map starting Tuesday during DevCon.

One big question for next-generation Blackberrys will be how RIM plans to address the popularity of touchscreen devices, especially for non-business users. RIM will almost certainly continue to provide devices with physical keyboards that appeal to business users, but consumers have made it clear that touchscreens are the future. The Nielsen Company's latest market share report said that Blackberry had slipped to 19 percent of U.S. smartphone users, well behind touch-centric Android devices (40 percent) and the iPhone (28 percent). RIM's U.S. market share hovered around 26 percent in late 2010.

 

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