Originally published February 18, 2013
I attended the Blackberry 10 Launch event in New York City last Wednesday. As a new member of Team Blackberry Elite, I was invited by RIM (now Blackberry) to attend the event as well as several other events and activities exclusive to the Elite program.
My first impression of the event was the grand scale of the location, and setup. Walking into the building at pier 36, which looked deceptively unassuming from the outside, I was met by a large crowd of people registering for the event. After obtaining my name tag and checking my coat, I shuffled to another much larger area filled with hundreds of reporters, analysts and other invitees enjoying a nice spread of bagels, pastries fruit and more.
Surrounding us were large images of the back of new Blackberry, imagery outlining the new features of BB10 and screens showing live Tweets of the event. After having a bite to eat I wandered around taking it all in.
This was a huge day for RIM. Some would say a “make-or-break” day. BB10, now over a year behind schedule, is in many people’s eyes, RIM’s last hope for survival in an industry it created a decade earlier.
Glancing down at my watch, I realized it was getting close to 10:00AM. I checked my email and had received a message from a RIM staffer who was to seat me that morning. I located Kari and she led me through the crowd into the main venue. An even bigger room, filled with rows and rows of chairs, even more people, and a large stage at the front. As we approached the stage, Kari led me to the 2nd row centre where I took a seat. Wow. What a seat! The reality of the whole even was starting to hit me.
I removed my camera from its case and began snapping pictures. As people moved into the main hall, the atmosphere began to grow with excitement.
We were moments away from the biggest announcement in the company’s history. The previous year had been one of struggles, layoffs, bad press, the appointment of a new CEO and plenty of nay-sayers calling for the death of RIM.
Some said it was too late for RIM. The Blackberry’s world market share had gone from close to 50% 4-5 years earlier to just over 5% today. Apple’s iPhone and the newer Android phones had changed everything. Each new model stealing more and more of the market away from RIM. As the bring-your-own-device movement has grown, more and more people have gone from having a work phone or carrying two devices, to using just one device of their choice.
But during this time, even with plenty of defections to the competition, RIM had still managed to grow their user base to 80 million. Nothing to sneeze at for sure. But can it hold onto them? If RIM can help it…BB10 will change everything.
Thorsten Heins takes the stage to great applause. CEO for just a year, Thorsten has had his work cut out for him. He begins by welcoming the crowd and acknowledging the difficult year leading up to now. One of the first announcements made is that Rim (Research in Motion) will now become Blackberry, one brand.
The next hour or so are full of announcements, demonstrations and plenty of cheering from the crowd. As Thorsten introduces BB10, dubbed a “mobile computing platform”, he goes on to explain that BB10 represents a platform for the next ten years.
Capable of running powerful devices, connecting devices like your car, and launching Blackberry into a new era. With growing anticipation, the new Blackberry smartphones are finally introduced to the crowd to great applause. As anticipated, they include a touchscreen model, dubbed the Z10, and a physical keyboard model — the Q10. Both models boasting larger screens than any previous Blackberries. The Z10 features a full 4.2 inch screen with higher resolution than the iPhone 5!
New features are highlighted, like Blackberry Balance — the ability to separate work and personal files and apps, Timeshift photos, peek, and flow, Blackberry Hub and more. The integration of all social media together with email and instant messaging is RIM’s solution to information overload and the need to open various applications to check for updates on other devices.
Through various demonstrations we preview the new BBM video chat function and BB10’s ability to share a user’s screen with another across the country or across the globe. Next, the subject of apps! Over 70,000 apps will be available at launch — the largest number of any “new’ platform at launch. Apps like Skype, Amazon Kindle, Angry Birds and over 1,000 of the tops apps for other platforms.
For me personally, a native Amazon Kindle app is absolutely huge and a welcome addition. As an ebook author and reader, the lack of a Kindle app for the Blackberry Playbook tablet had always left a big hole in my user experience. I look forward to trying it out on the Blackberry Z10!
At one point during the presentation, Thorsten pointed out that there were six launches happening around the world simultaneously — New York, Paris, Toronto, Dubai, London and Johannesburg — before pulling up a live screen showing the crowd at each event. Truly a global launch!
Blackberry also used the launch as an opportunity to announce that Alicia Keys, the singer and performer, will be Blackberry’s new Global Creative Director. Alicia used an analogy about dating to describe how she had been a faithful Blackberry user years before, but began to notice newer, cooler looking devices at the gym and began “seeing other phones”. With the launch of BB10 she was now going steady with Blackberry again because it now met both her work and personal needs and looked sexy again. As one of her first assignments, Alicia will be travelling around the world, talking to customers and Blackberry users — and will document her experiences using her Z10.
When would the new devices be available? The Z10 will be released first followed by the Q10 in early April.
Due to carrier testing they would not be available in the U.S. until March, but were available the next day in the UK, and on sale in Canada February 5th! Although prices may vary, Thorsten did acknowledge that the Z10 would be priced at $149.95 with a 3-year contract in Canada.
The one month delay for a U.S. release was a disappointment to many and could have a negative impact on the momentum Blackberry is trying to build around the launch. Both the UK and Canada represent large, important markets for Blackberry and it will be interesting to see what sales look like in the next few weeks.
In his closing remarks, Thorsten told the crowd that everyone would leave with their very own Blackberry Z10 so they could try out all of the exciting new features for themselves. The crowd erupted! It felt like an Oprah moment when she would give everyone in her audience one of her favorite things!
As things wrapped up, we all made our way to another room to demo the phone for ourselves and get some lunch. The event had left me feeling positive about Blackberry and its future. The devices looked great, and some of the new features were really cool. I was looking forward to trying one out myself!
I have now been using the Z10 for 5 days and I really like it. I am hoping to do a full review next week. Stay tuned.
To watch the live event, you can see it here.
The events didn’t end there for Team Blackberry Elite members. Following lunch we boarded a couple of buses and the Blackberry staff took us on a tour of the city/scavenger hunt type event. It was fun and we got to try out our new phones while seeing incredible NYC. Blackberry really went out of their way to not only show us a great time, but also to meet with all of us and answer our questions. I even met Thorsten Heins.
Later that evening my wife and I attended the Blackberry Fan Event at Milk Studios, where we were treated to free drinks and great music. The place was packed and when Thorsten arrived he received a rockstar welcome! He even posed for pictures with all of the excited fans. What a fantastic trip, event and experience. Kudos to the Blackberry staff and management for a great day!