RIM takes on Apple with BlackBerry OS 6: the black iPhone OS 2.0
April 29th, 2010
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.