Daniel Eran Dilger
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RIM takes on Apple with BlackBerry OS 6: the black iPhone OS 2.0

Daniel Eran Dilger

RIM’s big BlackBerry platform confab, the “Wireless Enterprise Symposium” or WES, recently debuted the company’s upcoming version 6 of its BlackBerry Operating System that runs its phones (well the latest ones anyway). You might think of it an an old version of the iPhone OS, but with lots of black in the interface.
If you’re not up to speed on RIM and its popular BlackBerry, I have an analogy for you. It’s 1987 and the iPhone is the three year old Macintosh platform, fresh from discovering desktop publishing as its killer app. That makes BlackBerry an analog of PC-DOS: the previous decade’s way of doing things, and lately a bit bitter about all this interest in “seeing what you get” in a fancy graphical interface.

Back in the late 80s, there were several valid reasons to run DOS: limited hardware requirements, multiple vendors, no premium price tag set by John Sculley. But three years after the iPhone’s debut, defending RIM’s PC-DOS of smartphones is more difficult. RIM’s BlackBerry is not really cheaper nor broadly available from multiple vendors, just less less sophisticated in terms of its user interface.

The primary attraction of BlackBerry comes from RIM’s experience and savvy in push messaging, which is tied to its tight integration with the company’s email server shim (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) that shunts messages from your corporate email server through RIM’s Canadian single-point-of-failure Network Operations Center and to your BlackBerry device (NOC on wood that RIM has its network up and running!).

That robber baron position over corporate messaging access has helped RIM rake in the big bucks. But it hasn’t done much to help the company execute in the consumer space. That’s because consumers don’t pay for a corporate email server, nor RIM’s BES, nor really benefit from a utilitarian phone that’s all about navigating text-based menus with a tiny nub controller to obtain your instant message emails.

Consumers like easy to use systems that offer third party apps and particularly games. But the BlackBerry OS is essentially just an implementation of JavaME: a lowest common denominator platform from the era before the iPhone. Good luck finding a sophisticated game for BlackBerry, or really anything but Facebook and the most commonplace of simple mobile apps.

iPhone knocking on RIM’s door at just three years of age

Apple entered the consumer arena with the iPhone running an exceptional mobile web browser, an easy to use and consistent touch interface, and friendly apps that worked really well. RIM initially held onto a technical lead in corporate messaging that Apple began to encroach upon with iPhone 2.0’s push messaging and Exchange features. Apple then pulled ahead with the App Store, which embarrassed RIM and its own feeble ability to manage a viable software platform and market.

RIM’s attempt to deliver its own touchscreen BlackBerry Storm model in imitation of the iPhone was panned as terrible by critics across the board. Its clunky touchscreen hardware and immature software indicated that just because RIM could make a good simplistic text-based glorified pager, didn’t mean the company could clone the iPhone without really trying hard.

After the failure of Storm and its Storm 2 successor, RIM chief executive Mike Lazaridis dismissed the iPhone in sour grapes language that insisted people don’t want touch-based phones anymore and that the people who had bought touchscreen phones in the past two years were now returning to devices with hardware keyboards, the kind that made RIM famous.

While it sounds ridiculous, that is actually likely the case among RIM’s customers, who bailed on the Storm and Storm 2 and very likely did return to the company’s old devices with lots of little buttons (the multi-seeded imagery behind the BlackBerry brand itself). This makes it all the more absurd that RIM is now hailing BlackBerry OS 6 as a touchscreen centric system.

Oh Black Eyed Please

To promote the new operating system, RIM did what every other uncool company does: find the most overplayed, uncool, sellout artist and wrap themselves around it like Roger Kay on an iPhone hit piece. Just ask HP, which thinks the Black Eyed Peas are an easy way to make lame stuff look hip to kids. RIM apparently thinks the same thing, because its noxious introductory video of BlackBerry OS 6 involves a lot of music, dancing and other distractions away from the actual iPhone-inspired interface.

And while I don’t want to belabor the sellout nature of the insipid Black Eyed Peas and their penchant for shilling anything and everything that pays for their appearance, perhaps RIM’s executives or operating drones could have at least listened to the lyrics of “Boom Boom Pow” that back the OS 6 video. It is officially the world’s most overplayed pop song, which auto-tunes its tired but overly-caffeinated way toward that most-eye rolling lyrical nadir, “I’m so 3008, you’re so 2000 and late,” which is perhaps the stupidest series of words to roll out of Fergie’s mouth since “My Humps.”

The fact the “Boom Boom Pow” was a megahit at its release in the spring of 2009 should provide some warning to those hoping to attach themselves to it more than a year later, when its novelty has worn off like BlackBerry’s own toyish user interface and simplistic Java-based operating system. Tying an embarrassingly overplayed song to the BlackBerry OS 6 launch is lame enough, but then expecting people to watch this dancing with full handed swipes on a midair user interface is just too vomit-inducing to handle.

But that may be the point, because if RIM had presented its new OS without all the white people dancing behind it, it might be more obvious that RIM has simply appropriated as much of the iPhone OS as it possibly could.

New in BlackBerry OS 6: iPhone OS 2.0

What exactly is new in BlackBerry OS 6? Well it almost doesn’t matter, given that most BlackBerry devices are still running OS 4.x and few users have any opportunity to upgrade their mobile software due to that problem of aligning the planets of the carrier, vendor, and phone model that plagues the upgrade potential of most cell phone platforms. But based on RIM’s video, it appears the new features are:

  • a new Home screen that looks like the iPhone, but with a lot of black in the interface;
  • iPod-like media playback that looks like the iPhone, but with a lot of black in the interface;
  • CoverFlow features and song shuffle icons that are identical to the iPhone (possibly blacker);
  • YouTube features that look like the iPhone, but with a lot of black in the interface;
  • text messaging that looks like the iPhone, but with a lot of black in the interface;
  • and onscreen keyboard that looks like the iPhone, but with a lot of black in the interface;
  • phone call management features that look like the iPhone, but with a lot of black in the interface;
  • rich email with attachments that looks like the iPhone, but with a lot of black in the interface;
  • a photo gallery that looks like the iPhone, but with a lot of black in the interface;
  • Spotlight search that looks like the iPhone, but with a lot of black in the interface;
  • and a WebKit browser that looks a lot like the iPhone, but with a lot of black in the interface.

You might say BlackBerry 6 is “so 2008, it’s so (yawn) something thousand and late.” Not even an erratic drum machine and excessive use of Auto-Tune can make this seem like it belongs in 2010, not with iPhone OS 4.0 around the corner. Also, there’s way too much virtual keyboarding in the video to be anything more than embarrassing to Lazaridis and his company’s famous thumb keypads.

Sorry BlackBerry users, but your options at this point seem to be: get an iPhone, or get RIM’s copy of the iPhone, with a lot of black in the interface. Sometime in 2000 and late.

  • Netudo

    I don’t like Hip-hop, specially those that use “auto-tune” audio effect.

    I could not care less. Or more.

  • KenC

    Haha, I get it, BLACKberry.

  • http://themacadvocate.com TheMacAdvocate

    I can dance better than the guy in the video. That’s saying something.

    What an embarrassment.

  • HCE

    That video was painful. I turned it off after a minute. Hats off to anyone who sat through the whole 2:18.

    – HCE

  • iLogic

    Oh my gracious, that was a terribly sad attempt at being sophisticated… iPhone 2.0 is so on the money Daniel.

    Not looking good for RIM this year, and next… ouch.

  • David Stevenson

    I liked the videos: thanks for posting them. But what’s with the “RIM confidential Not for external distribution” at the end–they’re on YouTube!
    I thought BB6 (for touchscreen, I assume; does it also support the tiny screens+thumb-key-board models?) was a significant leap forward, as I assume everyone thought it would be (including Apple and MS). The question is how usable the hardware/software integration will be (that was the big problem with the Storm). Regardless, I expect them to nail it with the next iteration next year. That puts them in a horse race with Android, MS and maybe Nokia, and I tend to give them the edge there.
    The big question is going to be apps and developers. I wonder how many commercial app developers they have/will attract for consumers, vs. in-house developers of businesses who standardize on BBs (the awards videos were interesting, and apparently where the BB action is).
    The snarky review aside, I don’t really expect them to execute flawlessly (after all, it’s take 2), but it looks like a solid step in the right direction.

  • wings

    Hey! Wait one big fat minute! When that guy is typing on the virtual keyboard, he hits “f” then “r” but by that time the text block already has “fred” in it. How does it know what he’s gonna type???? That is so cool it screams. I gotta get me one of them there things.

  • John E

    the putdown of the blatant iPhone copying is fun. but aside from silly PR, it looks like RIM is aiming at the same ‘basic email/texting smartphone’ market segment as the new MS Kin phones. RIM has the advantage of course of its loyal installed base – and 2-for-1 prices. prediction: Blackberry kills Kin.

  • gctwnl
  • talonhawk

    If that “Businessman” (model) straightened his tie, collar or jacket any more, I would have punched my screen.

  • mr_kitty

    Not to derail the plucking of the blackberry, but have you seen the catastrophe that is the “Blackberry Enhanced Gmail Plug-in”?

    Apparently, someone at RIM realized that people were installing the gmail app that bypassed their messaging servers, so they cloned that app and integrated it into their email application.

    So now, after you install “BEG”, all of your incoming messages are bundled into “conversations” that you then have to click on again to open. And consequentially, all the messages you send, also show up in the inbox as part of these “conversations”. Completely annoying to anyone except the most die-hard gmail fan — who would install the gmail app no matter what.

    But that’s not the frustrating part. There’s no off switch for this crapware! Once it is installed, it is active for any account it detects as running on google servers… Gmail, googlemail, google apps… All auto-conversed, like it or not. The only way to stop it is to uninstall the plugin.

    Unless of course you buy a new crapberry – or are silly enough to update your OS. Because BEG is PREINSTALLED with BBOS5, with NO OPTION to uninstall BEG.

    No matter how much you plead.

    I swear, with competition like this, it’s amazing apple products are as good as they are. No one else is even playing the same sport!

  • gus2000

    Now now, kids, to be fair:

    – this is not a commercial, but an “introduction”.
    – at least it shows the product, being put to use by people. That puts this ahead of 90% of the advertising I see.
    – it did not emphasize the brand enough, though; anyone passing by and glancing at the screen would think “Oh look, Gizmodo got another iPhone prototype”.

    You must give RIM credit: at least they know how to copy Apple worth a damn, unlike some other companies we know (*cough* microsoft *cough*).

    And to think we all laughed when Steve said the iPhone was 3 years ahead of the competition. That was 3 years ago, and I’m still waiting for someone to catch up.

  • donarb

    I guess RIM is jealous of all the struttin’ and posin’ us iPhone users are accused of.

  • worker201

    The real reason for having so much black in the interface is to keep people from noticing how little black there is in the user base.

  • Mike

    That last guy in the video isn’t even typing on the keyboard! he’s just dancing most of the time LOL. Nice way to NOT show off how the product works…

  • gus2000

    OK, I just watched the video again. I noticed at 0:51 that one of the thumbnails in the photo app is the emblematic clownfish iPhone wallpaper.

    Say whatever you like about RIM. Just don’t call them “subtle”.

  • iLogic

    “You’re so 2008 and late”? almost puked my gut from the laughter… RIM, if your business executives don’t come out and dance this hard when this thing launches you’re going to fail.

  • donarb

    I haven’t seen anybody get this worked up about interacting with a computer since Hugh Jackman’s hacking scene in Swordfish.

  • JohnWatkins

    @ talonhawk,
    “If that “Businessman” (model) straightened his tie, collar or jacket any more, I would have punched my screen.”
    That made me laugh, as I had a similar response. Had I been drinking milk when I read your post, it would have sprayed out my nose!
    And who checks their watch (or even even wears one) when its right on the screen of the phone they are looking at? Does anyone under 30 even own a watch anymore?

  • JohnWatkins

    “Does anyone under 30 even own a watch anymore?”
    I must admit I often do, but I’m well over 40.

  • ShabbaRanks

    So many Will Smith jokes…. So little time.

    No, honestly, that video was lame. Microsoft grade lame.

  • paolo

    Oh, come on.
    It *must* be a fake video! It’s just too much of a “sue me, Steve” interface.

  • http://www.cyclelogicpress.com Neil Anderson

    Whoa … they should have set that sucker to Waterloo.

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