RIM must succeed with BlackBerry 10, or it's a very long goodbye

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ORLANDO, Fla.--Research in Motion's CEO Thorsten Heins didn't have an air of desperation when he introduced BlackBerry 10 to the BlackBerry faithful and the press. Instead, he did his best Steve Jobs impression as he showed off a touchscreen-only device running an active-tile interface. He clearly thinks it's the best thing since night baseball. Heins needed to do this, just as RIM needs to pull out its creative stops to make its new device, whatever the final hardware may look like, the best thing it has ever done.

In short, to continue the baseball metaphor, RIM (NASDAQ: RIMM) needs an out-of-the-park home run with BlackBerry 10. Anything less, and BlackBerry seems destined for a long slow slide into obscurity, used only by security sensitive enterprises and governments. The real question isn't whether the device I saw today is good enough to be that home run, because there's no way to tell. What we saw today is hardware intended to be given to developers so they can create apps for BB10.

So while the fairly generic, but attractive touchscreen device I saw today won't be what BlackBerry eventually delivers, it gives a good idea of the direction that RIM is headed with BlackBerry 10. Obviously, this will be a touchscreen device. The prototype was touchscreen, but in addition, RIM has spent a lot of effort making the touchscreen keyboard as BlackBerry-like as possible.

The new keyboard, which will learn your typing style and your word use, is a solid improvement on the usually dreadful on-screen keyboards. So is the use of gestures, the multitasking, the ability to glance at several apps while keeping everything loaded and running. The QNX operating system, which also runs the BlackBerry PlayBook, is already known for reliability--Heins pointed out that 60 percent of cars on the road use QNX in their on-board computers.

Equally encouraging is the fact that RIM eschewed the use of the iPhone-like grid of icons in its new user interface. The active tiles, which look like Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, but are vastly different in use, show a fresh approach. RIM seems to have some good ideas.

But RIM has had good ideas before. What the company needs now is execution. When the first BlackBerry 10 device hits the streets this fall, it can't be anything like the introduction of the PlayBook. The first BlackBerry 10 device has to be something that not only is fully functional, but which has a wow factor that makes potential customers take notice. Of course this is no secret to RIM. The company has placed the biggest of all bets on the success of BlackBerry 10, and Heins and the rest of the C-suite know this.

Heins has said that in the past RIM has stifled new ideas, that the company was clogged with bureaucracy, and that innovation seemed to have trouble rising to the surface. Heins has also said that he needs to change this problem with RIM's culture. But culture is a hard thing to change, and rapid change is even harder. For BlackBerry 10 to be successful, this needs to happen.

In the end it comes down to execution. If RIM can really execute on the innovation and the fresh ideas that were shown in Orlando, and if RIM can market the BB10 ecosystem well enough that people will spend money on it, then BlackBerry will thrive. Anything less and it's over. Heins has a big job, and it's not going to get easier in the near future. But at least he's started out in a promising direction. - Wayne

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