The smartphone world is, at this point, a two-horse race. Android has the numbers, Apple’s iOS has the figures. Everything else – Symbian, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, etc. – are also-rans. Irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Even though, say, Windows Phone not making any serious headway into the market, despite boatloads of money poured into the platform, RIM still thinks it can do better with BB10. Austrian website Telekom-Presse has a pretty detailed video hands-on with a BB10 device – the Z10 – and it left me with one burning question: what is BB10’s identity?
Every mobile platform has an identity, something everybody can grab on to. A unique selling point, if you will. iOS arguably has the strongest and most defined identity of all; it has the immensely popular and strong Apple brand, it’s – rightfully so – seen as the original trendsetter, and it’s associated with ease of use and simpleness (debatable in my view, but alas). iOS’ identity is without question.
Android has its own unique identity. Google is probably just as strong a brand as Apple, and most people have positive associations with it. Android is also strong on choice; you can get whatever device you want, at whatever price point, in whatever form. It has by far the best backend services of all platforms, and even visually Google is getting its act together lately. While I don’t think Android’s identity is as well-defined as iOS’ in the minds of consumers, it is without question that it’s a strong identity.
Windows Phone leans heavily on its unique (and far superior, in my view) user interface. This was illustrated anecdotally quite well just today – my mother called me, explaining she was in the market for a new phone. She’s on an old iPhone 3GS right now, but the first thing she told me was ‘I really like those phones with the coloured squares – it looks so good’. This is clearly a more vulnerable identity, and a less-defined one at that, but it’s unquestionable. Windows Phone is unique, and that makes it stand out.
Even upstart platforms have realised the importance of a clear identity. Jolla, for instance, plays the fully-open-source-and-open-development-card at every turn, and Firefox OS and Ubuntu for Phones both build on strong positive brand identities from other fields.
As I was watching the BB10 video, I tried to find an identity. I tried to find something that set it apart from the rest, something that you can summarise in a single picture, a single sentence – and came up short. What is BB10’s unique selling point? What is its identity? The video is nearly 8 minutes long – far longer than most consumers’ attention spans. If an 8 minute video isn’t enough, what will be?
The user interface of BB10 looks chaotic, unfocused, cluttered. Things appear and disappear left, right, up, and down, and there doesn’t really seem to be a single anchor point to go back to. There’s no clear icon standard going on, and user interface elements are all different with no consistency. It feels very busy and messy, both visually and behaviourally.
In my view, the visual presentation clearly doesn’t have an identity of its own – it feels like Android before Google got its act together with Holo, but intermingled with several other styles. The word that really sticks with me here is ‘unfocused’. If you squint, even the Z10 hardware bears a slight resemblance to the iPhone 5. I have a feeling hardware isn’t going to be it, either.
What else could BB10 offer that nobody else could? The BlackBerry name comes to mind – but is that even a positive thing at this point? People around me associate it with boring business types and slow and unwieldy pre-iPhone smartphones; not exactly the image RIM is looking for.
What about BlackBerry Messenger? Does anybody even care about this anymore? RIM’s enterprise backend, perhaps? I guess I must’ve missed how enterprises cared about that, considering they’re buying iPhones and Android devices in droves. A hardware keyboard, maybe? Clearly something people care about, with all those iPhones and Android phones without hardware keyboards sitting on the shelves. A revolutionary software keyboard? What, more revolutionary than the loads of excellent keyboards available for Android?
I really hope RIM has a trick (or preferably, several) up its sleeves when it officially unveils BB10 later this month. The more platforms the merrier, but so far, I’ve seen little to inspire confidence that BB10 will be able to make a difference.