Take a random group of smartphone users and it’s likely that the majority of them are using either an iPhone or an Android-based device. Blackberries, the erstwhile kings of the corporate mobile scene, seem to have taken a backseat to Apple and Google’s product line ever since their release. The same can be said of Nokia, a name that evokes quaint images of multi-colored flip phones from the days of yore. However, recent developments would suggest that these two underdogs have no intention of giving up—and what’s more is that they seem too hip to all the latest mobile trends.
Back in January, RIM (now simply known as BlackBerry) held a press conference in Manhattan where they announced two new phones that would set a newer, “smarter” precedent for BlackBerries to come: the Z10 and the Q10. The Q10 gives BlackBerry fans more of what they’ve been used to by retaining a full keyboard (and a 3.1-inch display), but BlackBerry seems to have taken a cue from iPhones and Androids with the Z10, a fully touchscreen device that features a 4.2-inch display (slightly larger than the iPhone 5, which is 4 inches diagonally) and a 720p resolution. The Z10 has also been praised for its relatively easy repairability, a boon for BlackBerry in comparison to its contenders.
Hardware-wise, it seems BlackBerry wants to keep one foot squarely in their comfort zone (full keyboards, the hallmark of the BlackBerry) and one in the touchscreen fray. An interesting approach—but what strides are they making in their software? At the same Manhattan event, they launched their latest OS: the BlackBerry 10. What can it do, you ask?
For starters, there’s a fluid mechanism called “Flow” that enables you to seamlessly move between multiple apps. There’s also easy access to the BlackBerry Hub (an application that lets users access and respond to emails, text messages and social network activity) and a much more sophisticated BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), equipped with video calling and screensharing among other features. Speaking of BBM, BlackBerry just announced that it will be going cross-platform this summer. That means you’ll be able to use it on the iPhone and Android, and it will finally be the interoperable app that BBM fans have been craving for so long.
BB10 also boasts alliances with a host of major music labels, eight prominent movie studios, and several big apps including Skype, Amazon Kindle, and WhatsApp. Oh, and did we mention that you can get a feel for BB10 without owning a BlackBerry phone? If you have an iPhone or Android phone, head on over to BlackBerry.com/glimpse for a preview.
But wait, there’s more! In the midst of all their newfangled developments, BlackBerry is also improving on what made them such an iconic brand in the first place: enterprise. Today, BlackBerry launched Enterprise Service 10.1, which will add “better security, more IT policy options, a simplified deployment process, a new dashboard with more info on all devices in the fleet, and no cost BlackBerry support.” It’s an update that will be free for existing BlackBerry Enterprise Service customers. In addition, BlackBerry workplace enthusiasts will be pleased by BlackBerry Balance software, which creates separate profiles for business and personal use, bundled with BB10.
The Z10 was released on March 22, but its keyboard-sporting counterpart won’t hit stores for another month. But today, we also learned that BlackBerry will be introducing yet another phone for a different audience: the Q5. Slated to launch globally this summer, CEO Thorsten Heins said that this would be a budget device “built for emerging markets.” One wonders if this decision was at least partly inspired by Apple’s move to release a long-rumored “cheaper iPhone” sometime next month. But going far beyond the emerging market, Heins also took the opportunity to show off the QNX, the OS that lies at the core of BB10, on stage. He showcased two-way video calling with full stereo sound in a concept Bentley vehicle. The CEO of Mercedes Benz’s North American R&D group also came on stage and pointed out that QNX is already being used in some Mercedes cars.
Wow. With their touchscreens, a powerful new OS, inroads in emerging markets & cross-compatibility, and integration with the automobile industry, it appears that BlackBerry has come out of its lull of creative stagnancy swinging with full force. But just how successful will their reemergence prove? Will they sell “tens of millions” of Q10s like Heins predicted a couple of weeks back? Or will all the foregoing developments still not be enough to launch them onto a level playing field with the iPhone and Android?
Nokia is another company that hasn’t felt the heat of the limelight in quite some time—and they know it. Over the past year, Nokia released some low-end Windows phones through carriers like Verizon. Evidently, however, these ventures weren’t significant enough to yield them the revenue they needed, since soon afterwards they sold their head office building in Espoo, Finland for $222 million. A month later, they added insult to injury by laying off (or transferring) 1,120 of their IT guys. Ouch.
So it’s probably fair to say that after enduring all their trials and tribulations, Nokia is due for an upswing. Their comeback started with their decision to bring their 808 PureView’s 41-megapixel camera to the Windows Phone, announced in January. The PureView ostensibly got a lot of flak because it had such a brilliant camera on such a dated OS, the Symbian, but now they’re compensating for that with their move to integrate their high-end phones (not the feature phones, which they’re still producing). with Windows Phone 8. If Nokia is trying to set a precedent here, I think it’s an extremely wise one: continue to build on their hardware, but ditch the obsolete software in favor of a better alternative (i.e. the Windows Phone). It’s a strategy that already seems to be working for them. In keeping with the emerging market trend, Nokia also introduced the Lumia 720 and 520 as cheaper alternatives. While they did report an operating loss of $196 million a couple of months later, they did also hit a record-high in sales of the Lumia phone (5.6 million of them).
But let’s go back to their cameras. The Nokia Lumia 928, which was announced four days ago and is coming to Verizon stores on Thursday, has a camera that blows the iPhone’s and Galaxy S III’s out of the water. It has optical stabilization and can take stunning shots in low light. Here’s a video that shows what it can do.
Today in particular also seems to be a great day for kicking things up a notch, because Nokia announced their Lumia 925. Specs-wise, the 139-gram smartphone comes with a 4.5-inch (1280 x 768) display, a dual-core processor, and a 8.7-megapixel camera which—like the 928—is great for shooting even in places with low light. In addition to the high caliber of its hardware, the 925’s camera is also complemented by “Smart Cam,” an app that takes ten pictures consecutively (but at an extremely quick speed) and gives users the option to pick the one they like best.
Nokia may well have found their golden goose in their camera. If there’s a niche for people who want high-powered cameras in their smartphones, the 925 could hold some serious appeal for them. But just how much cash can they milk from that cow before there’s no profit left to be made? And what’s with all my farm animal metaphors? Who knows!