Skip to main content

Are Research In Motion's fortunes about to turn?

The Canadian handset manufacturer has seen some hard times of late. This was made worse by the news that its saviour operating system, BlackBerry 10 OS, has been delayed until next year. Furthermore, I was informed at the press briefing for the Curve 9320 that the phone will be the company's last handset before the 10 OS-based models arrive. This means there will be a gap of more than nine months before any new mobiles are announced by RIM.

However, it appears that things might be looking up for RIM, as news reached us that a 10in PlayBook was in production. There was also a host of high-quality images to add a little weight to the credibility of the source. The yet-to-be released device is reported to be a larger alternative to its relatively unsuccessful 7in model that only sold 260,000 units, in Q1.

The photos published on the site show a device sharing many design similarities to the current PlayBook. Little else is divulged about the tablet, leaving us to pore over these snaps to make any further judgement.

ITProPortal was told at a BlackBerry developer’s conference that the PlayBook would be upgradable to the BlackBerry 10 OS. That OS is the basis of the current RIM tablet's platform, as will the future flagship handsets from the company. Perhaps the 10in version could be announced running BB 10, with that device shipping next year? RIM has repeated this process before with its current tablet. This was announced in September 2010 and finally went on sale some seven months later.

We also reported that RIM has unveiled a new PlayBook, but not the one already leaked. Instead, the tablet’s headline feature is its support for 4G LTE networks. This gives connectivity on the go without relying on a BlackBerry handset for an Internet connection.

It still sports a 7in display and it has the unenviable task of taking on the likes of Google's Nexus 7, another 7in that has taken the market by storm.

Perhaps worryingly for the new PlayBook, a quick glance at the spec details show that its 1,024 x 600 screen resolution is trumped by the Nexus 7’s 1,280 x 800 display, while the latter’s quad-core processor also outstrips the PlayBook’s dual-core one.

Other features on the PlayBook include front-facing (3-megapixel) and rear-facing (5-megapixel) HD video cameras, stereo speakers and microphones, and 32GB of built-in memory storage.

RIM will be banking on its eye-catching 4G LTE capability to really pull in the punters, but the device will also be able to automatically revert to an HSPA+ network if 4G connectivity is unavailable.

The tablet is given a native launch on 9 August, meaning Canadians will be getting their fingertips acquainted with the tablet any time now. The rest of the world, including us Brits, have to wait a little longer, with RIM promising its widespread release “in the coming months”.

There has been some more positive BlackBerry news too: Research In Motion may license the BlackBerry 10 OS to other phone manufacturers.

RIMs CEO, Thorsten Heins, when speaking to the Telegraph, said partnering with other companies could be one way for the beleaguered Canadian firm to more effectively compete with larger manufacturers.

“We don’t have the economy of scale to compete against the guys who crank out 60 handsets a year. We have to differentiate and have a focused platform. To deliver BB10 we may need to look at licensing it to someone who can do this at a way better cost proposition than I can do it. There’s different options we could do that we’re currently investigating,” he said.

He went on to state: “You could think about us building a reference system, and then basically licensing that reference design, have others build the hardware around it – either it’s a BlackBerry or it’s something else being built on the BlackBerry platform,” he said, adding that RIM will not “abandon the subscriber base” whether it builds its own handsets or works with a partner.

As for defending his company against the doom-and-gloom predictions that abound, Heins insisted that BlackBerry is “not in a trough,” pointing out that “if you look at the platform it’s still growing, if you look at the devices we’ve got a single phone that’s sold 45 million units.”

However, the road is still looking like a bumpy one for RIM as it was recently reported that Samsung snubbed RIM's offer of a BB10 licensing deal - a partnership that was hoped to help reignite its ailing fortunes.

On a more positive note, though, RIM can only be relieved that a £94.3 million patent judgement against it was thrown out of court after a California judge ruled that RIM had not infringed a patent for wireless mobile device management via BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

This and the prospect of one, if not two, new PlayBook tablets on the horizon is a lot more positive for a company that, until now, would be without a new product until next year. Couple those with an emerging licensing strategy that could see the BB 10 OS on other manufacturer's handsets, not just RIM's, and the future may indeed be getting brighter.

Rob Kerr is a journalist with more than 14 years experience of news, reviews and feature writing on titles such as Wired, PC Magazine, The Register, The Inquirer, Pocket-Lint, Mobile Industry Review, Know Your Mobile and The Gadget Show. The mobile phone world is his real passion and forte, having owned a handset as far back as 1994 where he has seen them grow from just a business tool to a necessity in everyone’s everyday life.