A Comeback Story?

2013 is poised to be a really interesting year for the mobile device space. I’m a long time Apple fan, having used every iteration of the iPhone since the 3GS came out in 2008, but I think things are due for a shakeup. And that very likely could start today.

Like a lot of people, I’ve generally laughed at the slow and steady decline of Research in Motion, makers of the once-popular BlackBerry devices, since the rise of the touchscreen phones last decade. They were arrogant and played it all wrong. “People want physical keyboards!” they cried. “If people want to write apps, go ahead, but we won’t help!” was the other major complaint. And so, with most of the tech / geek sector, I wrote them off.

Over the course of the past several months, as I’ve been curating smartphones and tablets for our local device lab, I’ve been fortunate enough to get a bit of a sneak peek into what RIM has been working on, and I was surprised at my response. A little backstory, first; In December, I approached RIM’s regional BlackBerry Evangelist about possible donations to our device lab. We had a candid phone conversation about where RIM’s at and what they’re doing to “right the ship.” He talked a bit about the operating system strategy and offered to send us out some Playbooks — RIM’s 7″ tablet — for our lab. 

They arrived a few days later, and I was curiously surprised at their quality. It’s not nearly as polished as the iPad experience, but it was far more user friendly than the Kindle Fire that we purchased late last year. The lone detractor from the experience was the apparent lack of third-party app support available. There is no Netflix app, no Hulu, and certainly no Instagram. I wasn’t even able to find an official Facebook or Twitter app. It doesn’t matter how great the hardware or operating system is, if there isn’t a large library of third-party apps available it’s not going to success.

I think RIM was thinking the same thing, because it was just a week or so later that I became aware of the last in a series of “Port-A-Thon” events they were sponsoring, trying to motivate iOS and Android developers to port their apps over to the new BlackBerry 10 system. Beyond just going out of their way to make it super easy to do this, they were also offering a monetery incentive: $100 per app ported over. As easy as it was, it seemed foolish not to do it. So a few of us met up that weekend to work on porting our apps over, and by the end of the day we had 13 apps in the review queue.

bb10portathon

Something funny happened over the course of those few weeks. I went from laughing at the idea of a RIM comeback to being a minor cheerleader for them. Today is their “big reveal” of the new BlackBerry 10 platform and phones, and I’m really hoping that they’re able to pull it off. I’m not completely sold that what they have is better than Apple, Android or Windows Phone, but I’m a little excited about another option being there to help push the other three. They have an uphill battle on their hands, for sure. They’re going to need a few key killer apps to convince those of us already using Apple and Android devices to give them another shot. But if they come out of the gates with some really good looking hardware, an official Instagram and Netflix app, and the support of the developer community behind them, I think they stand as good a chance as anyone does.

What about you? Have you completely written RIM off, or are you curious to see what they have up their sleeves. I know I’ll be watching their press event to see if this turns out to be their last stand or the beginning of their comeback story.

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