Those lucky enough to have their hands on a BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha device was treated to a nice little software update this week. While some were having trouble just getting it installed, others were able to fire it up pretty quick and found a nice surprise waiting for them — voice controls. Hold down the play/pause button on the side and you’ll be prompted to speak a command and offered a unified search interface. Sound familiar? It should, Android and iOS have both hopped on the speech recognition bandwagon, and it’s becoming an expected feature of a modern mobile OS. The fine folks over at N4BB were able to give the suspiciously familiar sounding virtual assistant a run through and, let’s just say it’s a bit rough around the edges. Of course, thanks to the limitations of the alpha quality software there wasn’t much to actually test anyway.
Ever get the shakes sending out an angry text message? You’d better be careful if you buy a BlackBerry in the future, as RIM is trying for a patent that would telegraph all that wrath to the recipient on the other end. The technique uses a myriad of sensors, like an accelerometer, front camera or pressure sensor, to gauge just how emotional a smartphone owner might be and convey that through livelier messaging styles. Get flustered and that BlackBerry Messenger font gets big, bold and red; mellow out with a smile, and the conversation text becomes almost cuddly. Whether or not the patent is granted, let alone used, is very much an unknown. We have a hunch that RIM would rather not make BlackBerry users keep a poker face.
For those of us who aren’t fans of swipe gestures, the highlight of BlackBerry 10 is undoubtedly a unique keyboard that’s often a step ahead of its user. It’s a good thing for this last camp that RIM was just granted the final version of a related patent for logic-based text prediction. Instead of simply hunting for typos, the patented keyboard guesses the next word based either on the context of the words around it or on other criteria, like common expressions. About the only time the technique doesn’t predict words is for passwords — RIM would rather not be that clever. While there looks to be a few differences in the practical implementation of the patent as we’ve seen it in a pre-release BlackBerry 10, theory and reality are close enough that RIM won’t be worried about anyone else poaching its seemingly mind-reading technology anytime soon.
During yesterday’s shareholder meeting RIM CEO Thorsten Heins hinted that BBM, the companies celebrated group messaging service, might be getting some significant upgrades with the debut of BB10. In particular, the words “video chat” were tossed out as an example of how it planned to keep pace with the evolving mobile landscape. In response to a shareholder question, Heins said:
“BBM is a very, strong platform… With upgrading it into a new experience, think about adding features on BB10 such as video chat, for example, within BBM. There’s many other features to come with BB10 that will really level this BBM experience… which will upgrade that experience to a whole new social networking experience based on BBM… we want to use this to build a BlackBerry-driven social networking platform.”
So, does that mean BlackBerry is getting ready to take on Skype and Google? Perhaps. It would certainly make sense, but we’d stop short calling it a sure shot. What is clear, is that Heins really wants to push BlackBerry as the “social” platform focused on “experience” and seems content to let those other mobile OSes win the apps race.
Despite all the doom and gloom at RIM of late, CEO Thorsten Heins is a long, long way from throwing in the towel. After denying a “death spiral” and responding directly to Globe & Mail reader questions, he sat down with CIO’s Al Sacco to talk about what he sees coming next year — and why we’re going to have to wait another couple of months for BB10. The reason for delay, he says, “is not because we added stuff to it.
The delay is because our software groups were actually so successful in coding the various feature components… we got overwhelmed by integration efforts.” In other words, the company didn’t add too much stuff, there simply was too much stuff. That’s a very different state of affairs.
That being the state of play, the decision to delay again was a natural one, says Heins. “What I commit to the public out there is that when we ship BlackBerry 10, we will do it at high quality.” And he, of course, has high hopes for what they ship. “In January with the full touch device and the QWERTY coming, I think we will reinstall faith in RIM.” That seems to imply a January release for the device, or at least a final media unveiling, which could make the 2013 CES RIM’s last, best hope.
It was scarcely a day ago that we got a first peek at what could be the first BlackBerry 10 devices — and now we’re looking at what may be BlackBerry 10′s cornerstone app, a reworked BlackBerry Messenger. As long as N4BB’s details prove legitimate, the centerpiece of the app will be its theming: owners can customize the chat bubbles and backdrops to fit their finicky ways. Of course, this being an efficiency-obsessed RIM, the theming should also be integral to keeping power consumption to a minimum: the darker the colors, the less energy a BBM conversation demands from a future BlackBerry’s big OLED screen. We don’t know whether any changes will prove more than skin deep, although the switch to the QNX-based OS might prove enough at first. We’ll know everything soon enough should of a September release for the first phone be more than just a feverish dream.
It’s no secret that BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has been struggling as of late. The company is betting big on BlackBerry 10, hoping that its newest mobile operating system will be enough to turn things around. However, if recent rumors are to be believed, the company is also thinking about other ways to give the company a boost.
This past weekend, reports emerged that RIM was considering splitting itself into two companies and selling its hardware division off to a third party. The rumors stem from a Sunday Times article (via CNet) published yesterday say RIM is considering separating its handset division from its messaging network and selling off its hardware business. The paper names both Facebook and Amazon as potential buyers for RIM’s hardware division.
The Sunday Times didn’t divulge its sources for this information and RIM told CNet that it had hired advisers to “examine several ways to leverage the BlackBerry platform through partnerships, licensing opportunities, and strategic business model alternatives.” Canada’s Globe and Mail writes that the idea of splitting the hardware and software divisions of RIM was first advanced by former RBC Dominion Securities analyst Mike Abramsky. However the paper later cites two former RIM executives as saying top managers do not currently take the idea seriously and one said that “splitting the two would accomplish nothing.”
BlackBerry 10 is due out later this year and was launched back in April. Based on QNX, which was acquired by RIM in 2010, the closed source operating system will bring RIM’s smartphones closer to the BlackBerry PlayBook in terms of software.
Spotify’s been available to a certain segment of the BlackBerry population for some time now, but as of today it’s become an official listing on RIM’s app store. The app, which exited beta last December, hasn’t changed — there aren’t any UI or performance tweaks in tow, simply a more convenient means of accessing the application without having to redirect to a dedicated mobile site. You can hit up the source below to start your download, but bear in mind you’ll need a premium account to take advantage of the company’s streaming service on-the-go.
The launch of BlackBerry 10 and its debut devices is slowly creeping up on us, and some details about the handsets are finally starting to emerge. According to N4BB, RIM has two models up its sleeve — the all touchscreen L-Series and the QWERTY keyboard-sporting N-Series. The L branded models will be very similar to the dev devices we’ve already seen, with a 1280 x 768 OLED display (a first for a BlackBerry) that crams an impressive 356 pixels into every inch. The N-Series is more for the BlackBerry purists who cling desperately to their physical keyboards. Originally leaked with the codename Nevada, the N-Series shrinks the display to 720 x 720, but still keeps the pixel density impressive at 330ppi. N4BB’s sources say that the L will hit shelves first in September, with the N to follow in Q1 of 2013.
Contract electronics manufacturer Celestica Inc said on Monday that it will stop making products for struggling mobile device vendor Research and Motion (RIM) over the next three to six months.
RIM is Celestica’s biggest customer, but the BlackBerry maker accounted for only 19-percent of the first-quarter revenue, down 16-percent from a year earlier. The drop is reportedly due to a weak demand for BlackBerry products.
“Celestica has been a high-performing manufacturing supplier for RIM and will work closely with RIM throughout the transition,” Celestica said in a press release. “As discussed on the company’s first quarter results conference call on April 24, Celestica has been working with RIM as it assesses its supply chain strategy. Celestica estimates that prior to any recoveries, its restructuring charges will not exceed $35 million.”
Previously Celestica handled RIM’s higher-end products including the Bold 9900 and the Curve 8520. It also provided some after-market services from its operations in Mexico, Romania and Malaysia. However the company warned back in April that the volume of business and product manufacturing locations for RIM would likely change.
Two weeks ago, RIM officially discontinued the 16 GB version of its poorly selling PlayBook tablet. The company will phase out the PlayBook once current stock at retailers is finally depleted. RIM said it will continue to manufacture the 32 GB and 64 GB models.
Back in March, RIM announced its 4Q fiscal 2012 results, reporting revenue of $4.2 billion, down 19-percent from the third quarter. BlackBerry shipments were 11.1 million units, down 21-percent in the same quarter. GAAP net loss in Q4 was $125 million or $0.24 per share diluted; adjusted net income of $418 million or $0.80 per share diluted.
Over the past two years, RIM’s share of the U.S. smartphone market has taken a serious plunge, falling from 44-percent to a mere 12-percent. Overall RIM has lost nearly 75-percent of its market value since last June. Recently RIM told investors that it may face an operating loss for the current quarter. It even hired on bankers from JPMorgan Securities and RBC Capital Markets to help with a financial “transformation.”
In addition to Celestica, RIM has additional suppliers Flextronics International Ltd and Jabil Circuit Inc. But with RIM out of the picture, Celestica said it will continue to manufacture servers and other products for branded manufacturers such as IBM Corp and Cisco Systems Inc. As previously stated, the company expects restructuring charges of up to $35 million prior to recoveries.
“Celestica is reaffirming its second quarter financial guidance that was provided on April 24. The company anticipates revenue to be in the range of $1.65 billion to $1.75 billion, and adjusted net earnings per share to be in the range of $0.20 to $0.26,” the company said on Monday.
More details about Monday’s RIM-related announcement will be provided as part of the company’s second-quarter results press release and conference call, which are scheduled for Friday, July 27, Celestica added.