So it's finally time. Research In Motion (NYSE:BB) will unveilthe BlackBerry 10 platform Wednesday morning after a full year of delays and missed deadlines.
The rumor mill is running so hot, it should be visible from space. The user interface will be revolutionary! Beta testers love the new phones! BB10 is like nothing RIM has ever done before! Have you even seen these beautiful photos of leaked handsets? And the stock has jumped 30% in January, even accounting for the 15% swoon of the last couple of days.
So what can investors really expect this unveiling event to do for them? I've come up with three highly probably outcomes.
1. BB10 will look like a wonder of innovation next to the iPhone 5 or Galaxy S III
RIM simply cannot afford to leave any tricks up its sleeve this time. It's every card on the table, right now.
That means we'll see some feature-packed products indeed. The cameras will be fantastic. You'll have instant payment features built into the phone, probably using the once-hot, but recently ignored NFC technology. Maybe there'll be a wireless charging station, too. BB10 will be fast, it will be slick, and RIM will have the most modern smartphones on the market for a while.
The QNX-based software is only one part of the complete top-shelf package, but an important one. If the Playbook tablet is any indication, the new interface will be different enough from iPhones and Androids to make a statement, and maybe good enough to be worth the trouble getting used to it. RIM loves to involve the borders around the screen in user actions. The company has had plenty of time to build the core application of its game-changing system. I bet the invested blood, sweat, and tears will show.
By contrast, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has largely left the original iPhone design alone for five years. If you got used to the original iPhone experience, you'll be right at home with a modern iPhone 5 as well.
That's a conscious decision, and Apple fans love the consistent experience. Drastic changes might drive customers away in Cupertino's case. But RIM gets to start from scratch with a whole new set of expectations, another five years of rapidly advancing technology, and nothing left to lose. Not going for broke would be totally insane.
2. RIM will surprise even the hardcore rumor junkies
Yes, the pre-release information has been plentiful. Yes, the smartphone industry is running low on honest-to-goodness new ideas. NFC has been done, Nokia already has a wireless charging solution, camera are already good enough for most people. Maybe that's why every new handset looks and feels so much like the last all-singing, all-dancing model -- everything's been done already.
But that's not true. RIM could and should add something downright shocking to the BB10 lineup. Maybe it's a high-definition video projector that doesn't suck batteries dry in a jiffy. Maybe the camera can track your eye movements, controlling the phone in a whole new way and making touchscreens obsolete. Perhaps it's a new spin on the secure messaging that made BlackBarry famous in the first place, with features undreamed of.
Chances are, it'll be none of the above. But RIM will surprise us all somehow, if only just to show that Canadian innovation isn't dead yet.
3. But it's a tempest in a teapot -- all sound, no fury
What does RIM get for presenting a truly modern and maybe even beautiful product this late in the game? A whole lot of nothing.
It's kind of like Palm presenting its user-friendly webOS platform as a game-changer in 2009. Palm would live or die by this sword, and it was everything a sophisticated smartphone user could wish for at the time: fast, friendly, and designed with the user in mind. Nod if that situations sounds familiar -- RIM is basically playing back the same tape.
But Apple and the Android army had already begun dividing the battlefield between themselves, leaving little room for any new upstarts. So Palm's final Hail Mary fell short. A year later, the company was largely out of business. Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) snapped Palm up for pennies on the dollar, hoping to get a cheap ticket to mobile relevance. But even HP's massive capital and brand value couldn't help Palm, and the division was shut down in 2011. Now, webOS is an open-source hobbyist project with no serious corporate backing.
That saga played out four years ago. The mobile market has matured and solidified a lot since then. It will take a lot to move any significant portion of the Android or iPhone armies into the BlackBerry camp. Realistically, RIM doesn't stand a chance. All this hype won't help RIM rebuild its broken brand.
Those are my big predictions for RIM's crucial gala: BB10 will be amazing, it will pack a surprising punch, and it will still fail to save RIM's bacon.
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