Well, we’ve made it. A year ago, the blogosphere was in pretty round agreement that RIM was dying, and unlikely to last long enough to introduce its crucial new platform. Here we are, on the eve of an introduction that has improbably taken on an air of excitement generally only reserved for that “other” fruit company. Not only has RIM survived a crucial year, they’ve managed to build a level of buzz that is surprising many outside of its enthusiast community.
There have been any number of leaks about the Z10 that we will see introduced tomorrow. We know it’s slated to have competitive specs, a great screen, a keyboard to die for, and a sufficiently-differentiated user interface. Is there anything left that could possibly be a surprise? Funny you should ask…
Things To Watch For at the Launch:
1) Production values. This is a big show, taking place in six cities worldwide, so one would expect some degree of “wow”. RIM walks a fine line here, though; its traditional audience is the “professional” mobile user. This needs to be big, but it has to set a tone that will still appeal to corporate customers. Many months ago we saw a leak of the “In the Right Hands” concept that had a variety of creative stars such as J. K. Rowling and Lady Gaga collaborating on projects via BB10. We don’t know if that specific concept has been brought to fruition, but it wouldn’t be a bad starting point. Also: will it come off without a hitch? Will every demo work flawlessly?
2) Thorsten. RIM CEO Thorsten Heins has held the most thankless job in tech: guiding RIM through a year when it was supposed to be doomed. He doesn’t have the pure charisma of a Steve Jobs, but throughout the past year he’s expressed an affably geeky vibe and a refreshing frankness about where RIM is and what it has to do to succeed. Tomorrow, he’ll be the star of the show, and it may not be overstating things to call this the performance of his career. Will he rise to the occasion?
3) The campaign. RIM has been notorious for poor marketing, and it’s a weakness they desperately need to address. That they’ve built as much buzz as they have for this launch is admirable in itself, but we need to see a clear indication of how this new platform is going to be marketed to the public. Follow-through is crucial. Will we see new slogans/taglines? A new graphic style? Celebrity endorsements?
4) The product. At this point, you’d think that we know everything that there is to know about the Z10, but in fact some facets have only been hinted at, and in fact we’ve seen little of TAT’s UI work so far. We’ve seen screenshots that show a “Remember” app that is supposed to take a new approach to task management, and we know there’s a “Story Maker” app that edits video and still photos with cool effects and transitions. We have seen next to nothing on how these apps will work, though, and only a tease on the crucial Apps To Go productivity suite. Past software, and past the Z10 and X10, will there be any other hardware demos? Any chance we might see BlackBerry10 on a larger phone like the rumored “Aristo”? Or a larger PlayBook? And speaking of product, how about…
5) Availability. We know a wide range of carriers around the world have committed to carry BlackBerry10, some as early as January 30, apparently. How long will it take US carriers to stock the Z10?
6) App volume. We’ve seen a wide range of numbers quoted for the sheer number of titles in BlackBerry World, from a low of 70,000 up to 120,000. After all the effort behind developer engagement, the Port-A-Thons, the BlackBerry Jam sessions, where did this number actually land?
7) Major third-party apps. These provide the biggest potential for headlines tomorrow. If Skype isn’t on board, how many other choices will we have for cross-platform video chat? Has Netflix finally been convinced to support the platform(dodgy screenshots notwithstanding)? I suspect there will be surprises both among available apps and among those publishers who choose to hang back, but hopefully the former outweighs the latter.