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RIM’s Hail Mary

Prototypes of the BlackBerry 10 phone are given to developers
May 3, 2012

On Tuesday, Research in Motion unveiled prototypes of the BlackBerry 10 phone and operating system–a product more or less unanimously considered to be the company’s last chance (if that moment hasn’t already passed). Emphasis on the proto- there; the New York Times reports that the “phone” can’t actually make calls yet, is completely without buttons, and will have bad battery life.

Why release such a prototype at all? RIM wants to woo developers to the platform as soon as possible. If, when the phone actually launches late this year, it’s devoid of apps, it will be essentially dead upon its arrival into the marketplace. And so RIM is putting out what it’s calling an “alpha” version of the phone, a “very, very stripped down” version. Other out-of-context choice quotes from the befuddled vice president of developer relations include: “a little bit pokey,” and “not super great.”

That last bit was said in particular of the prototype’s battery life (it will require much additional coding to find energy efficiencies), but it sounds as though it might be said of the device as a whole. It’s unclear why any developers would be sufficiently impressed by the device to suddenly divert resources from their Android and iOS divisions. An RIM spokeswoman has even said that the prototype is “not indicative of what the hardware will look like at launch.” Why would you want to begin developing an app based on a slab of electronics that may or may not even closely resemble the ultimate device consumers would be using your app on?

The reports on the unveiling all close on the by now familiar warnings from various frowning analysts. The headline that best sums it up comes from Reuters: “RIM BlackBerry 10 prototype fails to wow investors.” Said David Cockfield, of Northland Wealth Management: “There is no investor confidence in RIM at all. It will have to do something fairly spectacular to turn things around.” An app developer put it even more colorfully to the Times: ““If this is a horse race, RIM is two laps behind and has a lame leg.” 

And speaking of horses, it pains me to flog this dead one. I long for the day I can write a piece of good news about RIM, if only because it would be, at this point, utterly unexpected. For a collection of former posts about the decline of Research In Motion–which collectively, in retrospect, form a sort of “death watch”–see the below.

10/12/11: “BlackBerry Outages Spread to U.S.

1/24/12: “Who Is RIM’s New CEO?

2/16/12: “Apple Woos the Government (While BlackBerry Gets the Boot)

2/23/12: “The BlackBerry PlayBook Tries Again

4/4/12: “Is RIM Dead?

On what date do you project the affirmative answer to that last question to arrive?

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